Working at Height Hazards & Safety Precautions | Toolbox Talk

What is Working at height?

Working at height means working in any place where a person can potentially fall and injure himself. It is common in our daily life, from hammering nails in walls to cleaning windows or changing light bulbs. 

Following are the common examples;

  • Work to climb above ground level (on a ladder, elevated platform, etc.) 
  • Work on the edge of the already raised area (Roof edges, container tops, etc.)
  • Work on the ground level near an opening in a floor or hole in the ground (Sewerage manholes, cellars, etc.)

What hazards are involved in Working at Height?

Height work is one of the most prominent causes of fatal injuries worldwide. There are two primary hazards associated:

1. Falling of persons 

A person who falls from height can get severe injuries to the neck or spine, multiple fractures, paralysis, and even death.

2. Falling of objects on persons

Objects (tools, planks, bricks, etc.) may be dropped on people underneath. Such falling objects can cause serious head injuries, fractures, or even death.

What makes Working at Height dangerous?

The following are the major contributing factors in deciding the level of risk:

1. Vertical Distance

Vertical distance is the most significant risk associated with working at height and is directly proportional to the consequences of a fall. A person working at height may survive a fall from 4-5 feet elevation, but falling from a five-story building will be fatal in any case.

2. Type of Surface

The severity of fall injuries depends upon the surface on which a person falls. A fall from height on a concrete surface will be more dangerous than falling on a pile of sand. Some fall surfaces could be full of sharp metal pieces, iron bars, or glass. Such surfaces can be very dangerous, even for low-height falls.

3. Unprotected Edges

Any edge that is unprotected poses a falling hazard. This applies not only to roof edges but also to the edges of excavations, loading docks, walkways, etc. People unfamiliar with the workplace are at more risk of falling from unprotected edges.

4. Unsecured material

Loose or unsecured material placed at height can potentially cause serious injury to people underneath. Any tool or equipment placed on the edges of height platforms can easily fall on people due to vibrations or strikes by someone.

5. Fragile Roofs

Falls from degraded and fragile surfaces or roofs are one of the most common causes of work-at-height incidents. These accidents usually occur when roof repair work or cleaning is carried out.

6. Bad Weather

Weather conditions influence safety when working at height outdoors. Rain or fog can make a surface slippery. Extremely sunny conditions affect a person’s ability to control reflexes. Also, strong winds can easily make someone lose balance, fall, and cause personal injury.

7. Unsafe Access

Lack of access, unsecured, and unsafe access are known causes of most falling accidents. Some examples are lifting a person on a forklift truck to gain access to work at height platform, direct climbing on scaffold bars, improper use of ladders, and pulling someone at height with ropes.

8. Health Condition

It is essential to know that not all persons fit to work at height. Many people are naturally afraid of heights which can be very dangerous. Overweight people, people with heart diseases, and other medical conditions are also unsuitable for working above ground.

9. Lack of Competence & Training

Incompetent people can build an unstable or unsafe work structure which can lead to collapse. Similarly, a lack of training and competence can lead to falls from ladders, severe accidents, or even fatalities while working at height.

Why Working at height training is necessary?

Working at height training is necessary to ensure the safety of employees who may be required to work at heights. The training will provide employees with the knowledge and skills required to work safely at heights. It will also help to ensure that they are aware of the potential hazards associated with working at heights and use the right personal protection.

What is working at height and fall protection equipment?

Working at height and fall protection equipment includes any type of device or gear that workers use to perform their jobs safely at heights. This can consist of items like ladders, scaffolding, aerial lifts, and personal fall protection gear like fall arrest systems. Using the proper equipment for the job is essential to preventing falls and other accidents. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates the use of fall protective equipment at any height above four feet in general industry, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry, and eight feet in longshoring operations. Always check your local work-at-height regulations before using any working-at-height safety equipment.

Safety tips for working at height

The following are some safety tips you need to ensure to mitigate the hazards:

  • Avoid working at height as far as possible.
  • Try exploring alternate ways of getting the job done while standing on ground level. (e.g., painting roofs can be done using long sticks rather than using a ladder).
  • If working at height is unavoidable, always conduct a risk assessment, follow safe work procedures, minimize the duration, and use collective measures for fall protection. (e.g., installation of guard rails, toe boards, fences, etc.)
  • If collective fall protection is not practical, then proper PPE and personal fall protection equipment (e.g., safety harness with lanyards, fall arrestors, etc.) must be used to reduce the fall risk. Also, proper anchor points should be used for attaching the fall protection equipment.
  • Must ensure thorough inspection of all personal protective equipment used for fall safety and equipment for working at height.
  • Implement all possible control measures to reduce the distance and consequences of falling from height.
  • Never take shortcuts while climbing to a height platform. Always use the right type of equipment and fall prevention to avoid injuries and fatalities. You may want to use ladders or stepladders, scissor lifts, or other proper access means.
  • Avoid placing material and equipment near the edges of work platforms.
  • Use work-at-height equipment appropriately and safely and follow equipment-specific safety instructions (e.g., ladders, elevating platforms, scaffolds, etc.)
  • Always secure any openings, unprotected edges, excavations, etc., to prevent a fall
  • Only medically fit and competent persons should be allowed to work at height. Employers should ensure that those workers have received proper working at height safety training.
  • Take into account weather conditions that could compromise the safety of personnel.
  • Always identify all hazards and assess the risks associated; use common sense or consult a health and safety engineer or advisor.
  • Always be ready for any type of emergency keeping in view the working environment and risks involved.

Jawad Chand

Jawad Chand is an occupational health & safety practitioner and trainer with extensive experience in oil & gas safety management, process safety, pharmaceuticals hazard control, and health & safety management systems. He is a highly qualified professional with the most prestigious degrees in Business Administration, Chemical Engineering, and Occupational Health & Safety.

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