I can’t be the only person who thinks that the headline “Over 140 people die at work each year” is one that should spark serious questions about how workers are being kept safe at work - or not. In late 2019 the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) released its annual report on worker injury and fatalities revealing that 147 workers were killed at work in 2018/2019, a quarter of which as a result of falls from height. This makes Working at Height the UK’s biggest workplace killer and one that affects construction and maintenance workers in particular. These figures, rather than generating headlines and provoking debate have again fallen under the publics’ radar.
In comparison to other countries it’s true to say that UK workers suffer low rates of fatality at work. However, this doesn’t mean that Facilities Managers, their staff or contractors should be complacent about Working at Height. People are dying needlessly - the majority of deaths are as a result of falls from height, and the majority of these falls are completely preventable! You might be asking how, but it’s pretty simple. The implementation of safety policies is a start, along with the use of proper and fit safety equipment and full and thorough training - but above all, it’s establishing a height safety culture. Stopping these deaths means ensuring workplaces adopt height-safe cultures and understanding the dangers of Working at Height - proactively seeking to mitigate the risks at every opportunity.
The lack of consistency in preventative measures and the lack of training/education from one organisation to another is quite startling. In Heightsafe’s experience, it often takes a near-miss for organisational leaders to sit up and take action. Taking a proactive approach to a company’s culture and safety investment is critical when considering Working at Height.
Published in 2019, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)’s report on Working at Height described how improving communication around existing regulation, advice and best practices could help mitigate poor Working at Height practices. Each year I’m frustrated that there is not more being done at a government and regulatory level to highlight the dangers of Working at Height. The last awareness campaign that was undertaken by the HSE, ‘Height Aware’ took place over a decade ago. These were the days before social media when information and toolkits were still being delivered by CD-Rom!
While the HSE may be slow to act, Facilities Managers and FM leaders need not be. I’d like to encourage the profession to see 2020 as a turning point where organisations focus on getting their Work at Height cultures in fit shape - and that starts with the reflection on some key questions.
- Consider how, in your role as an FM, can contribute to the height-safe culture of your organisation.
- Do you welcome feedback and concerns from colleagues?
- Do you alert management to yours, and others’ concerns?
- Do you encourage employee participation in safety awareness?
- Do you know who you can work with in your organisation to encourage positive, proactive change?
Further, whilst it’s true that organisation-wide cultural change must come from the top - i.e. leadership teams - each and every member of an organisation has a role to play. As an FM you play a key role in making sure that important issues reach the right ears and what issue could be more important than securing workers’ lives?
Implementing a Height Safety culture might seem daunting, but it is not the responsibility of just one individual. As an FM you need to be supported to affect change but you can make a positive start by making sure you are getting the basics right. Here’s what you can do right now to make sure you are legally compliant - the foundations of a proactive height safety culture.
- Training - The ‘Work at Height Regulations 2005’ state that as an employer or duty holder, you are required to ensure that all employees have access to Work at Height equipment that reflects the requirements and regulations, including training in the use of equipment.
- Fall Protection Systems - Current Health and Safety legislation dictates that Fall Protection systems should be in place when employees or contractors carry out work at height (2 metres or higher).
- Safe Equipment - Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a vital part of protecting against the risks posed whilst Working at Height. This includes items such as safety harnesses, lanyards and karabiners – legally required when using some Personal Fall Protection systems. As an employer it is your duty to ensure that employees are fully trained when it comes to selecting the correct PPE for the job.
- Inspection, Testing and Compliance - The ‘PUWER Regulations 1998’ state that regular maintenance and testing of Work at Height equipment and PPE is required to remain compliant. If your systems are not visibly tagged and in compliance, it may not only invalidate your insurance, but could also lead to prosecution, should an employee, contractor or even trespassers suffer injuries.
We know that Facility Managers have the intention to make work safe, but there must be a support structure in place so that they can do so. In focusing on reducing the amount of preventable deaths through a height safety culture, the inevitable effect will be the creation of better safety cultures across the board - no matter what activity is being undertaken. Let’s try to make 2020 the safest year for workers yet, starting with the most dangerous activity they are undertaking. Let’s be vocal in our support for safe working, express our concerns openly, aim to raise awareness where we can and not let yet another report of deaths fly under the radar.