Who is responsible for Working at Height?
John Boyle, Director of Eurosafe Solutions, looks at where the responsibility rests for working at height and what employers need to do to minimise the risks.
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 were introduced in a bid to prevent death and injury caused by falls from height, therefore minimising risks to workers. Employers, facilities managers, building owners and anyone else that controls work at height, including the self-employed can be held responsible should an accident occur. They would be liable if an accident occurred and the equipment was found to be faulty or uncertified. These individuals and organisations have a legal responsibility to ensure that the Work at Height Regulations 2005 are implemented and that all activity is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent persons. They are also responsible for ensuring that fall protection systems for Work at Height are inspected regularly, at a maximum 12 monthly intervals, but more frequently when working in hazardous environments.
The employer (or organisation that controls Work at Height, such as a facilities management company) is required to take responsibility for certain duties of care under the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The regulations state that the employer must ensure that workers have available to them the appropriate Work at Height equipment, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Workers should also receive appropriate training in the use of that equipment and whilst they are in training with the equipment, they should be properly supervised.
Regulation 12 of The Work at Height Regulations deals specifically with the inspection of fall protection equipment. Here, the responsibility lies with the employer to have Work at Height equipment properly tested and inspected on a regular basis.
For example, in the case of a handrail and guardrail (under PUWER 1998) this would require at least 12 monthly inspections, or more frequently if the environment is hazardous.
The Work at Height Regulations also state that surfaces, parapets or permanent rails, where work is to be carried out, should be checked on every occasion before that equipment is used. Again, it would be the responsibility of the employer (the Duty Holder) to ensure this is carried out effectively.
The legislation points to certain ‘danger areas’ such as fragile surfaces, where it advises that special consideration is given. In case of fragile surfaces, the employer (or contractor responsible for the work) must ensure that a suitable and sufficient platform or covering is supplied. They must also take all precautions to ensure that the distances from these surfaces to the ground are restricted to minimise the consequences of a fall.
Another responsibility of the employer or duty holder is to ensure that workers are alerted to fragile surfaces with prominent warning notices as they approach the hazard. In addition the guidance recommends that equipment is made available, such as guardrail, to prevent an individual entering a dangerous Work at Height area.
Law in action
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 created a new offence ‘if the way in which activities are managed or organised a) causes a person’s death or b) amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.’
A case in 2012 was directly linked to the directors of a business not taking responsibility for Work at Height. They were charged with gross negligence manslaughter and a breach of Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, through the neglect of their duty of care. As a result, they were ordered to pay a significant fine.
In this case, an employee died from a fall through a fragile roof, having been asked to go on a factory roof to make repairs. The employee was unsupervised, with no training and no safety equipment, such as crawl boards or fall restraint harness.
The roof was found to be unstable and safety maintenance work had not been carried out by the company, despite warnings from the HSE. The worker subsequently fell through the roof and lost his life. It was adjudged that the Work at Height Regulations were not adhered to, which meant that employees were inadequately protected. This was one of the first cases to reach trial under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act and it has helped to reinforce the need for senior management to take responsibility for workers operating at height.
Latest statistics from the HSE reveal that, although falls from height are reducing, they are still one of the most common causes of injuries to employees and account for 29% of fatalities in the workplace. Employers are taking their responsibilities very seriously, not least because of the risks to a business, but also the number of lost working days every year as a result of injuries from falls from height.
One of the best ways for a business to minimise its risks from Work at Height activities is to remain compliant with the legislation.
As a result, many businesses choose to outsource their testing and inspection requirements for fall protection equipment to specialist Work at Height companies in order to ensure that their systems and PPE are fit for purpose. This gives them the reassurance that Work at Height equipment is compliant and they are minimising their risks to employees and to the business.”
For more information, contact Eurosafe Solutions Ltd on 0114 250 7411 or visit the website www.eurosafesolutions.com