In July 2019 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its annual workplace fatality figures showing that deaths due to falls from height have risen 11% in the last five years, and 14% from last year. In 2018/19, 40 fatal injuries to workers were due to falls whilst working at height.
Falls from height continue to claim more lives in the workplace than any other factor. The latest HSE statistics demonstrate there is not one single industry that can claim it has solved the Health and Safety culture issue which still exists. While some sectors such as construction and agriculture remain the most dangerous, there is still a wide-reaching lack of education for safe Work at Height. This is even in despite efforts from government, regulators and charities to draw attention to the deadly risks.
Speaking about these statistics, our MD Ken believes that cultural issues and attitudes within a business are key contributors to these figures. “I have seen Health and Safety culture evolve and degenerate in equal measure!” said Ken. “The lack of consistency in preventative measures and training or education from one organisation to another is quite startling”.
Earlier this year the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)’s report on Working at Height described how improving communication could help to improve poor Working at Height procedures. While communication campaigns are important in encouraging proactive safety cultures – the question still focuses on whether this goes far enough.
Facilities Managers can no longer rely on optimism that ‘it’ll be fine’ when considering their staff and their ability to undertake their duties safely when Working at Height.
Ken states, “In Heightsafe’s experience it often takes a near-miss for organisational leaders to sit up and take action. It is critical to proactively take a wider look at the top-down culture and investment, when considering Working at Height”.
Drive by Testing – A Significant Compliance Issue.
Identifying the current attitudes towards Working at Height, Heightsafe have noted the poor drive by testing practices conducted by other organisations within the industry.
Heightsafe have reconciled claims that compliance testing works of Fall Protection and Façade Access equipment on end user sites has been completed in unachievable timeframes. This exposes the end users to significant risks of falling whilst working at height.
Ken explains, “A new client of Heightsafe’s recently referred to a compliance testing provider testing 95 Abseil Points and 9 Safety Lines in just 1 hour and 20 minutes. Heightsafe would not expect to complete a full test to this specification in less than a working day, allocating sufficient time to thoroughly complete this project has clearly failed”.
This is one practice that is exposing clients and their personnel, who Work at Height, to risk. This is neither safe, ethical or value for money for the end user.
Cost cutting exercises such as this, without question, clearly demonstrates a cultural and educational issue. This proves how prevention is seen as a tick box exercise – not a thorough, proactive staple of Health and Safety planning.
How regulation can play its part to ensure safe Work at Height.
Where such culture exists, there are several ways in which regulation can take the lead in stopping preventable deaths and life-changing injuries. The first is to ensure organisations take a proactive approach to planning for Working at Height by making the correct equipment a legal requirement.
Making Work at Height equipment a legal requirement on new build and redevelopment projects, with a minimum standard set in building regulations would significantly reduce the number of preventable incidents. Of course, this would impact budgets and, as such, it would be sensible to also offer tax relief for businesses actively investing in Work at Height equipment to protect their personnel. Similar to the Land Remediation Relief currently available in the asbestos industry.
Commenting on this issue, Ken explains: “Ensuring that the right safety equipment is available to workers should be a basic requirement. Unfortunately, it often takes an incident or near-miss to spur action and investment in equipment. When lives are being put in jeopardy this is not a risk worth taking”.
The fact is that, while debates are had over the best ways to deal with these avoidable incidents, people are still getting injured and lives ruined. Industry shouldn’t wait for regulators to come knocking before they act.
How Facilities Managers Can Contribute.
It starts with building a positive Working at Height culture – Consider how you as a Facilities Manager could contribute to the Work at Height culture of your organisation. Do you welcome submissions of feedback and concerns from colleagues? Do you alert management to the concerns of yourself and others and encourage employee participation in safety awareness? Do you know who you can work with in your organisation to encourage positive, proactive change?
Heightsafe recently published a blog describing How to Create a Positive Health & Safety Culture to celebrate the company’s 10-year anniversary which can be found here. This can help you to answer and improve on some of the questions above.
Heightsafe know that Facilities Managers want to make their working environment safe. As much as regulation may be considered an additional burden, it should also be viewed as a tool to help focus business leaders on the need to support their Facilities Managers to put safety first and foremost in any project.