Working from height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries in the UK. In the second of a four-part series, David Thomas reflects on 40 years of progress.
In the previous article, we looked at how working at height was managed in the past. Moving to the present day, the emphasis in published statistics lies with occupational health , without issue.
However, the annual report 2013/14  – noting that 133 workers were killed at work (an incidence rate of 0.44 per 100,000 workers) – provides no mention of the toll of working at height. Sadly, the insight and commentary provide by earlier publications, whereby the reader can learn from the failure of others, has been lost to the cold accounting of the statistician’s spreadsheet [3,4].
In construction, there were 42 fatal accidents, of which 19 were as a result of falls from height (42 per cent) , and falls from height accounted for 31 per cent of major/specified injuries. Overall, looking at all industries, it is very difficult to determine a detailed picture of current causation. ‘Blackspot 2015’, wherefore art thou?
Working on fragile roofs continues to be a major cause for concern [6,7,8,9] and a focus for HSE . I do not consider, however, that the equipment required to enable safe work on roofs has received the same degree of attention and innovation as in other aspects of work at height, e.g. temporary access platforms (that are heavy, cumbersome and liable to damage the very roof which the worker is trying to access to repair).
The Construction (Working Places) Regulations 1966  and the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996  both led to an increasing focus on working at height issues. More recently, the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR)  brought together all the different legal requirements for safe work at height in order to make a cohesive, single set of goal-setting regulations, which would be flexible enough to apply to all industries and allow for technical innovation. 
At the heart of the regulations is the overriding principle that you must do all that is reasonably practicable to prevent anyone falling. Thereafter, and central to the duty of care placed upon those who control the work of others, is the obligation to follow a simple “hierarchy” when planning work at height; with collective protective measures to be given priority over personal protective measures, and measures that prevent a fall given priority over those that minimise the height and/or consequences of a fall.
An understanding of this hierarchy is essential. Correctly selecting work equipment for any activity at height means being able to justify why safer alternatives required by the hierarchy have been ruled out.
The WAHR provide an emphasis on ‘competence’ (regulation 5) and, therefore, training. At the time, the impending introduction of the regulations encouraged industry to take the lead in producing supporting advice, e.g. BS 8454  and the Awareness Syllabus developed by the Advisory Committee on Work at Height Training (ACWAHT).  Also forthcoming was BS 8437. The original consultation document, CD192,  set out proposals for guidance to assist in meeting the requirements of the regulations and the steps required to manage work at height safely. This was not taken forward although, subsequently, a simple ‘plain English guide’  was published.
Work at height trade associations and federations
There are a number of trade associations and federations that are recognised as leaders and authorities in different aspects of working at height; namely:
* BSIF – Personal protective equipment ;
* EPF – Edge protection ;
* FASET – Safety netting ;
* IRATA – Industrial rope access ;
* IPAF – Powered access ;
* LA – Ladders ;
* PASMA – Mobile access towers ;
* SAEMA – Suspended access ; and
* WAHSA – Personal fall protection equipment .
They meet together, on occasion, under the banner of the AIF  to provide a forum to discuss issues of common concern.
David Thomas is technical director at The heightec Group Ltd and is also a director of Heightsayfe Ltd.