Legislation governing work at height stipulates that, where protective measures are used, collective methods must be prioritised over personal equipment. Safety nets come under the former, and Tony Seddon provides an insight into how they should be managed, maintained, and installed competently.
Passive, collective control measures to ensure safe working at height are those that, once installed, require no input from those they protect, and which can protect more than one user at a time. Such measures include guardrails, work platforms, airbags and safety nets. While none of these will prevent a fall from occurring, they will minimise the distance and consequences of it.
To do so effectively and safely, it is absolutely critical that this equipment is installed correctly by a competent operative, with appropriate control measures in place in terms of its management and maintenance. Failure to ensure all of this can lead to non-compliant systems being in place on site and the end-users being exposed to unnecessary risks.
In terms of safety nets, they must comply with the requirements of BS EN 1263-1:2002 Safety nets — Part 1: Safety requirements, test methods. An easy way to identify if a net has been manufactured in accordance with the standard is to check the mandatory manufacturer’s statement of compliance. However, further checks should also be made to ensure the net is compliant with all other aspects of the standard.
Maintenance, inspection and testing are crucial to ensure that all safety nets used on site are safe for further use. Safety nets are normally manufactured from polypropylene or nylon, which, like most textiles, are susceptible to degradation by exposure to UV light (sunlight). As a safety net works by absorbing the load imparted by the body falling into it, it is imperative that it has not degraded and is still capable of taking the anticipated loads and performing within expectations.
To ensure that degradation has not occurred beyond the permitted levels, the safety net must have been tested within the previous 12 months to prove it meets, or exceeds, the minimum criteria. All safety nets are manufactured with sacrificial test meshes made from the same batch of material as the net to enable this testing to take place. Test meshes are identified with the same serial number as the net itself, and are removed and tested to prove that the material remains within the required parameters. If it does not, the net should be removed from service and disposed of.
A requirement of BS 8411:2007 Code of practice for safety nets on construction sites and other works is that each test should be evidenced by a tag on the net. If this is not present, the net should not be accepted on site.
To avoid UV degradation of the net, it must be stored in a suitable facility that prevents exposure to sunlight. Nets that are awaiting disposal, inspection, test, or repair should be clearly segregated from those that are ready for further use.
Inspection and repair
To ensure that no defects are present in the structure of the net, all safety nets must be inspected on both sides by a competent person prior to release to site for further use. Where defects are found they may be permanently repaired by a competent person. Manufacturers of safety nets offer training to ensure repairs are made in line with their recommendations (moves are underway to standardise the repair method across all net types and manufacturers).
Most manufacturers do not limit the number of permanent repairs allowed on a net. Up to two temporary repairs per damaged single strand can be made on site by qualified safety-net riggers, in accordance with the requirements of BS EN 1263-1. It is important that the net is removed from site after use so that permanent repairs can be made.
Full records should be maintained for all safety nets in use. This should be in the form of a net register, detailing the life history of the net from its purchase, UV testing, inspections and use, through to its disposal.
Training and competence of installers
Only holders of the relevant competence cards should be permitted to install safety nets. A scheme to train installers to agreed industry best practice has existed since 2001, set up by FASET, the trade association and training body for the safety-net rigging and fall-arrest industry.1
This system of training, under which delegates gained first their FASET Training Certificate, then their FASET Safety Net Installer’s card, following successful completion of the FASET Site Assessment or GSA-1, is still in use but the competence assessment itself has altered radically. All Training Certificates are now controlled centrally by FASET and are uniquely serial-numbered, so their validity is easy to verify.
In 2004, FASET decided to adopt the CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) system for all cards, and holders of the FASET card were given the opportunity to convert to the new CSCS Safety Net Rigger card. This required some alterations to be made to the qualification system, as CSCS only recognises NVQs as the measure of competence to hold a card. The old system of GSA-1 was therefore replaced by the NVQ Level 2 in Safety Net Rigging.
With regard to the installation of safety nets, there are three types of CSCS cards that will be encountered (and should be demanded) on site:
- Trainee — The holder has been FASET-trained and is working towards their NVQ and Skilled status. The holder may rig safety nets under the supervision of a qualified safety net rigger, but cannot hand the net over to the client once installation is complete.
- Experienced worker — The holder is an experienced safety net rigger, has been FASET-trained and GSA-1 assessed, and is working towards their NVQ and Skilled status. The holder may rig safety nets unsupervised and hand over to the client once installation is complete. They can also carry out post-handover inspections of safety nets.
- Skilled worker — The holder is a fully-qualified safety net rigger, who has been FASET-trained and has obtained their NVQ in safety net installation. (They may also have converted their FASET card into a CSCS card bearing the endorsement “Safety Net Rigger — FASET Assessed Route”). The holder may rig safety nets unsupervised and hand over to the client once installation is complete. They can also supervise trainees and carry out post-handover inspections of safety nets.
All three cards will bear the endorsement ‘Safety Net Rigger’ on the back.
In addition to the courses and qualifications mentioned above, FASET developed the Safety Net Inspectors course, which is a must for those responsible for employing and monitoring safety net installation. (There is currently no CSCS category for inspectors.)
Successful candidates (who, from 1 January this year, hold a serial-numbered certificate) have the required technical knowledge to monitor the safety net installation, and carry out post-handover inspections as recommended every seven days, or after extreme weather conditions. It must be noted, however, that they cannot effect repairs to a netting system, which must only be undertaken by a qualified safety net rigger.
When using safety nets as a reliable and effective method to protect those working at height, the following points should be remembered:
- Only allow nets on site that comply with BS EN 1263-1:2002;
- Ensure all nets have been tested within the last 12 months for UV degradation and are appropriately labelled;
- Ensure only competent operatives have effected repairs to nets;
- Ensure that full Net Registers are maintained, with full records of all nets in use;
- Ensure that only trained, qualified and competent safety net riggers, holding the appropriate CSCS card, are allowed to install nets;
- Demand a handover certificate for all safety net installations, completed by a qualified safety-net rigger;
- Ensure safety net installations are inspected by a competent person every seven days, or after adverse weather conditions;
- Do not allow any alterations to be made to any safety net installation by unauthorised operatives; and
- Report any damage to a safety net to the installers.
1 Fall Arrest Safety Equipment Training — www.faset.org.uk
Tony Seddon is company secretary of FASET.
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