The working at height regulations 2005 dictate that business owners shall ensure the safety of their workers through the proper implementation of plans designed to reduce the risk of personal injury or death from falls and potential dropped objects. But in order to implement said plans, a risk assessment must first be done. That risk assessment takes into account anything considered reasonable that might result in worker injury. With that risk assessment in hand business owners and supervisors can then plan the work accordingly. |
The risk assessment is perhaps one of the most important phases of the entire safety plan. Without a thorough and competent assessment it becomes very difficult to implement plans to keep workers safe. Therefore you need a competent inspector with both knowledge of the regulations and enough experience in the work environment to know what constitutes reasonable risk. According to the HSE there are five basic components to the risk assessment:
identifying normal hazards identifying individuals who might be harmed, and how they could be harmed evaluating all possible risks and deciding on precautions recording the findings and implement solutions reviewing and updating your assessment as warranted Identifying Normal Hazards
According to the HSE guidelines identifying normal hazards should not be complicated; neither should business owners attempt to make it more complicated than it is. In most cases you will have a good idea of what constitutes a normal hazard simply by having a few years of experience on the job. For example, you might know that workers have a tendency to leave materials and equipment too close to walkways. That is a normal hazard which can easily be dealt with through the implementation of certain procedures.
If you read the HSE documentation you'll find that the term "reasonable" appears throughout. The regulations are not designed to micromanage every little thing a company does when working at height. It simply mandates that you identify normal and reasonable hazards and implement steps to mitigate risk. Normal hazards are classified as conditions or actions, normally existing on your work site, that could pose the risk of fall. There might be some other conditions that occur regularly, albeit not in a daily basis, that are also well known enough to be considered normal hazards.
As long as normal hazards are identified and dealt with, the risk of injury from falls is greatly reduced. Anything not considered a normal hazard must be weighed against the likelihood that such a condition will occur, and whether or not the risk can be reasonably reduced.
Identifying Individuals and How They Could Be Harmed
The second portion of the risk assessment is a little more difficult because you must take into consideration the unpredictable nature of human beings. Of all the factors involved in implementing proper safety plans, human beings are the weakest link because we cannot always be depended on to do the right thing. Therefore, your risk assessment must take into consideration who is most likely to be injured at work and how that injury could occur.
Using residential window washers as an example, it is most likely that the individual workers are the only ones with any real risk of injury. Customers don't generally stand outside and watch workers perform their tasks. Therefore, your reasonable precautions should include protecting the workers through the use of specialized working at height equipment that allows them to work from the ground at all times. If a home is large enough to require scaffolding, then you'll need to also consider the possibility of individuals walking around or underneath it.
Evaluating Risks and Deciding on Precautions
In addition to identifying normal hazards and the various individuals who are at risk of injury, you must also consider any additional circumstance that might raise the risk level. For example, will it be risky to assemble scaffolding on a certain piece of ground because it is too soft in some places? If so, there are reasonable steps you can take to shore up that scaffolding and prevent it from sinking into the soil. This is just one example of evaluating risks and deciding on precautions.
For every risk your assessment uncovers you need to find a solution that mitigates said risk. This part of the inspection requires very creative thinking that's able to adapt from one job to the next. It's usually done best by an individual who has worked in the industry and has spent time actually doing the work themselves. The more experience an inspector has the more likely they will be able to identify risks that other people would miss.
Recording Your Findings and Implementing Solutions
The working at height regulations require that the results of all risk assessment should be recorded and kept on file at the job site. This is important on a couple of fronts. First of all, it protects the company in question if their assessment and safety practices are ever challenged in court. You need to have a record of who performed the inspection, that individual's qualifications, and what safety practices were implemented as a result.
Second, the written record provides the specific solutions needed to mitigate risks. There is nothing worse for site safety than a haphazard collection of possible risks and solutions. Where there is no black-and-white assessment and planning, safety tends to lacking as well. On the other hand, where written safety assessments include concrete solutions, safety is much more proactive and effective. Keep in mind that the objective of at height regulations is to ensure the safety of everyone involved, not to needlessly interrupt productivity. The solutions you decide to implement should reasonably address the risks while still allowing workers to accomplish their tasks.
Reviewing and Updating Your Assessment
Your written assessment acts as a reference point for further assessments as a job site evolves. The assessment should be updated on a regular basis as the evolution of a job site presents new risks and hazards. How often this update should occur depends on the speed of the job and how quickly new hazards are presenting themselves. Keep in mind that updating your original assessment doesn't necessarily mean you'll be making drastic changes. In some cases you will, while in others you are simply reaffirming what your previous assessments have already stated.
Safety risk assessments performed properly and thoroughly set the table for safety practices that will be implemented on the job site. It is of utmost importance that your inspectors know your chosen industry inside and out as well as all the possible risks that come with it. Without the proper assessment by a well-qualified inspector, it becomes difficult to keep workers as safe as possible.
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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