All working at height done in the UK is governed by the Work at Height Regulations of 2005. The regulations provide for planning and accident mitigation, training of employees, and the proper use of tools and equipment aimed at working at height scenarios. The regulations also provide for supervision, which is absolutely necessary to ensure a safe site. Without supervision employees are more prone to careless mistakes or not fully understanding and implementing safety procedures. |
The importance of professional supervisors committed to safety cannot be underestimated. Every year in the UK there are hundreds of injuries resulting from falls from height and dropped objects. In many cases of reported accidents, employees were not following established safety guidelines in their daily work. Furthermore, supervisors were either not present or not requiring workers to work safely. If this were not the case there's no telling how many of these accidents can be avoided.
The first thing a supervisor needs in order to do his job properly is a full knowledge and understanding of the Work at Height Regulations. A supervisor who is unfamiliar with the regulations will not know what is required of him to maintain a safe work environment. One of the best ways to provide this knowledge is to put supervisors through a training course prior to going to work. Typically, training is sought from a third party company/manufacturer that is fully aware of how equipment works and The Working at Height Regulations. This will help in assisting the supervisor to achieve a level of competence in line with regulations.
Some companies offering training courses will come to the customer's office or work site to perform training. This makes it easier for the manager/supervisor to get time off to do the course but will also assist the trainer in tailoring the training to the specific needs of that client. Others require you to send your workers to them. Regardless, the course will include a mixture of theoretical and practical elements. This training is critical if supervisors are to correctly apply regulations to the job. Understand that a supervisor who completes this course without full understanding of the material is one who is not adequately prepared to supervise the job.
Knowledge of the Work
Of equal importance to knowledge of the regulations is knowledge of the work being performed. It doesn't do much good for a supervisor to know all the nuts and bolts of the regulations if he does not know how to safely apply them to the particular tasks at hand. Not having knowledge of the type of work being performed is a recipe for mistakes. These mistakes not only endanger the welfare and safety of workers, but it also frustrates them because they aren't able to do their work safely and effectively.
Having a supervisor with several years of experience performing the specific tasks in question is always a plus. This type of individual knows the ins and outs of each task including the tools used, the different methods employed to ensure quality and efficiency, and the risks inherent with the work. Such knowledge is invaluable when supervisors are required to implement safety rules. They are the best qualified to know how to implement said rules while still allowing workers to complete their tasks as expected.
Attention to Detail
Supervising working at height requires an attention to detail not found in many other occupations. A supervisor must constantly monitor and review the work of operatives in order to ensure they are following safety procedures. A supervisor who does not have an eye for detail is one who might miss careless mistakes or improperly implemented procedures. Operatives working under such a supervisor tend to make more mistakes that result in unfortunate accidents and injuries.
Attention to detail can be taught to most supervisors under normal conditions. Part of the training your supervisors receive should include exercises to teach them this skill. If it is a skill a supervisor lacks once he gets to the job site it is the employer's responsibility to work with that supervisor to increase his attention to detail. Detail oriented exercises and goals are a great way to accomplish this. Once a supervisor reaches an acceptable level, his new found attention to detail will make for a much safer work environment.
Point of Observation
Part of attention to detail is for the supervisor to assume a good point of observation. Keep in mind that the regulations stipulate a supervisor may not put himself in danger when choosing his point of observation. For example, observing gutter work by posting oneself on a roof might be acceptable if the supervisor is properly tethered and has full vision of the work being done. But if operatives dip below the eave, it would be imprudent for a supervisor to move to the edge of the roof in order to see the work. That would be putting himself in danger just to maintain his point of observation.
Although all the detail of the work might not necessarily be observable from the ground, such a scenario would dictate the safety supervisor moved to ground level in order to observe work done on the eaves. Perhaps if the building had a second-floor window with a decent view a supervisor could move to that room. The point is, supervisors need to watch out for their own safety as well as that of their workers. They are just as prone to falling from height if they are careless in determining a point of observation.
Rescue Safety Operations
It is the duty of every employer to include guidelines for rescue operations as part of an initial safety inspection and subsequent plan. Rescue operations are undertaken when an operative is injured, suspended in a harness after a fall or stuck on an elevated platform. It is the responsibility of the site supervisor to make sure anything needed for the proper execution of rescue plans is available in an easy and timely manor. In the event of such rescue plans being put into operation the supervisor plays an integral role.
Rescue operations are one area in which many company safety officers are lax. They assume that proper planning and safety procedures will significantly reduce the potential of accidents, and rightfully so, but it's not possible to prevent every single accident. There will be times when equipment fails and workers make mistakes. It is during those times when safety officers and supervisors need to go into action in order to safely rescue a stranded worker. Remember relying on the Emergency services is not a plan!
We have supplied here some of the basic guidelines and requirements for supervising working at height. Obviously, in so few words it's not possible to cover everything involved in being such a supervisor. If your company does conduct working at height activities you owe it to both your supervisors and workers to make sure everyone knows safety regulations and procedures and implements them properly. You also owe it to your workers to make sure your supervisors are competent and fully trained.
Falls from height are one of the leading causes of death and serious injury in the work place, with a high personal cost to families and the subsequent financial cost to businesses.
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