Our Managing Director spoke to an esteemed information and news provider in the facilities management industry this September. Ken highlighted exactly why a renewed focus is required when considering Working at Height and the management of educational facilities.
Highlighting these issues has come at a poignant moment considering recent events that have occurred in the educational FM sector. We refer of course, to a contractor who suffered critical injuries as a result of falling from a school roof. Meanwhile, Health & Safety Executive issued a fine exceeding £120k following a fall from height from a school sports hall. These events coinciding with the HSE highlighting Work at Height as the most prevalent workplace killer based on latest statistics.
At Heightsafe we recognise the particular challenges Facilities Managers face depending on their remit and industry. Education can be particularly challenging when you consider the diversity of sites – from single, small primary schools to multi-campus universities. There is not an all-encompassing solution to instill a height-safe culture in facilities management of educational premises.
However, we believe there are some core principles that Estates Managers can consider. These recommendations apply no matter the size or complexity of the facility.
Prepping for a new term of prevention and awareness
In February the All-Party Parliamentary Group released its report on Working at Height. The document describes an ongoing culture of complacency in relation to safe Working at Height practices. Health and safety practices need to be improved. Establishing a culture of awareness and prevention is the first step any organisation should take.
The HSE specifies that key aspects of an effective Health and Safety culture include (but are not limited to):
- Management commitment and visibility
- As a Facilities Manager how involved are you in promoting positive safety culture. Directors and senior management need to be both actively involved as well as following measures once implemented. This applies to any organisation regardless of size. We recently released a blog defining how to create a positive health & safety culture in your business. Click here to find out more.
- Consistent and high-quality communication
- Messages considering the importance of safe Work at Height practices need to be reinforced. You also need to assess whether these messages are being implemented on the ground.
- Active employee participation and an open-door policy for concerns to be raised
- Communication is a two-way process, so what procedures are there to deal with concerns regarding unsafe working practices?
Facilities Managers are under many pressures and need support to deliver such cultural change. Are you informed, engaged and empowered? This will ensure that you are able to make Working at Height safety a primary concern responsibility.
Some rules aren’t made to be broken when Working at Height
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 are set out to prevent death and injury caused by a fall from height. If you are an employer or are in control of Work at Height these regulations apply to you. This applies to Facilities Managers roles and building owners who may contract works externally. Be fully aware of your responsibility to ensure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent personnel. This includes stipulating the use of appropriate equipment.
In our experience at Heightsafe larger sites, such as universities are often blind to the assets they require. Many already have the equipment that they need in place to support safe Working at Height.
Such sites are often subject to ongoing development. Additions of new learning facilities or student accommodation are regularly made to large, scattered sites, often simultaneously! It’s vital that as part of the development planning, proactive and preventative safety measures and equipment needs are considered. Facilities Managers bear the responsibility of maintaining new builds. They should therefore be consulted about ongoing health and safety requirements. That could include for example, safe roof access which Heightsafe often sees forgotten as part of the new build process.
It’s only at a later stage when such access is needed that safety equipment might be considered. We are aware at this stage the consideration is sometimes entirely overridden by the ‘it’ll be alright’ mentality. That’s when work goes ahead unsafely, based on hope rather than proactive fall prevention. Accordingly, that’s when potentially life-changing falls from height are most likely to happen.
Is your annual report card up to scratch?
Even if Facilities Managers are fortunate to have the equipment they need, they often lack up-to-date equipment records. Knowing what you have is the first challenge and can often be attributed to a legacy issue. Annual testing schedules are imperative to ensure that assets are still fit for purpose. Depending on the system, compliance tests should be performed every 6 and 12 months.
The new school term can provide added impetus for you as Facilities Managers to proactively take stock of your assets. Audit and assessment is something Heightsafe provide as part of our compliance packages. Click here to find out more. Too often we see ad-hoc testing of equipment, which only adds to the difficulty of effective assessment scheduling.
It’s worth mentioning that recently the Work at Height industry has been debating the issue of ‘drive by testing’. Testing Fall Protection and Façade Access equipment is a specialised job. It’s worrying that there’s been an increase in external testers reporting equipment has been tested in achievable timeframes. This subsequently exposes the end user to significant risk.
95 Abseil points and 9 safety lines test in just 1 hour and 20 minutes? This is an example provided by one of our clients referring to their previous compliance tester. Typically, we advise a test of this specification would take at least one working day.
This ‘drive-by’ practice is exposing Facilities Managers and their personnel who Work at Height to risk. Facilities Managers may take comfort in the knowledge that they have a certificate of conformity. However, in the event of an incident, the compliance testing would be brought into question. Quite simply, scrimping on testing is never wise.
Lifelong learning rather than back to school
Education is a common sticking point when it comes to Safe Working at Height across industries. Willful rule breaking rarely leads to dangerous falls at work. It’s the lack of training and awareness of the risks associated with Working at Height that’s to blame. A focus on career long, if not lifelong learning can help overturn this starting with Facilities Managers. Understanding that which you don’t know is the first step in any process. Luckily there is plenty of advice, support and training available.
Knowledge empowers Facilities Managers to change cultures and drive proactive and preventative safety strategies. Learning enables Facilities Managers to keep their teams, colleagues and contractors safe from the biggest workplace killer in Great Britain.