Hazard work at height poses a high risk of injuries or even fatalities if proper controls are not introduced while performing work at height activity. Always comply with safe work procedures to avoid accidents while performing work at height.
Introduction to Working At Height Safely
Working at height presents significant hazards and risks to the workers required to work at height. In industries such as construction, maintenance, and utilities where work at height often took place several feet off from the ground, has high risks of causing serious accidents and injuries. Identification of hazard work at height and their mitigation by implementing effective control measures are crucial for maintaining a safe work environment while performing work at height activity. Wherever practicable, Either avoid the work at height or reduce the height to minimize the risks of accidents.
In this blog, we have explored 09 common hazards and will provide remedial controls associated with working at height activity to reduce the associated risks. Work at height poses a leading cause of fatalities in many industries where work at height takes place without implementing proper safety control measures.
Hazard Work At Height: 9 Common Hazards & Control Measures For Working At Height
Work at height activity can introduce various risks; that’s why, it is crucial to identify hazard work at height and implement appropriate control measures. Here are 9 common hazards related to work at height activity with remedial control measures.
1. Falling From Height Hazards
Falling from height hazards is the most common cause of serious or fatal accidents in the workplace particularly in the utilities, construction, and industrials sector. It is very important to note that, height doesn’t necessarily mean 100 or 200 hundred feet off the ground. A fall from low elevation such as a ladder and rooftop, can also lead to serious injuries.
The circumstances of falling from height hazards can vary as per the situation such as falling through open holes, fragile surfaces, falling off from ladders, scaffoldings, roofs, or other elevated work platforms and areas where workers are exposed to execute work at height activity. Each scenario may need different preventive methods to avoid injuries related to work at height activity.
Falling from height hazards can be controlled by implementing effective control measures. here are some ways to achieve that:
- Guardrails Systems: Always ensure proper guardrails systems for work at height platform because it provides a physical barrier that prevents employees from falling. Guardrails should be equipped with proper top rails, mid-rails, and toe boards at standard distances for effective protection. The aim of toe boards must be edge protection.
- Personal Fall Protection Equipment: This can include a full body harness with double lanyards, and retractable lifelines. this equipment must be used correctly. All personal fall protection equipment must be inspected by a competent person and should have a valid inspection certificate. Wearers are also required to do a visual inspection of their personal fall protection equipment before each use.
- Restraint System: These systems are designed to keep workers restrained so that they can not reach fall hazards.
- Safety Nets: Safety nets are used in a situation where guardrails or other forms of prevention are not applicable. Safety nets can catch the falling workers from height, reducing the impact force and, that’s why the likelihood of injury.
- Safety Training: All workers involved in working at height activity should be trained in work at height training courses. This training must cover various topics, such as proper use of personal fall protection equipment, identifying fall hazards, and what to do in case of emergency while performing activities at elevated platforms and areas.
Whenever possible, The best way to eliminate the hazard of working at height is to work from ground level or use the machine or tools that allow you to work from the ground. Ensure that fall prevention measures are implemented if work at height can not be avoided.
2. Unstable Working Surface
Unstable working surfaces pose a significant cause of serious injury and property damage during working at height activity. This can be due to various factors such as poor weather conditions (rain, snow, ice, wind speed), poor design of the working platform (for example, incomplete scaffolding due to missing guardrails system & another component, or loose planks, etc. Workers can observe unstable surfaces while climbing a ladder, walking on roofs, working on scaffolding, or walking on platforms. Conditions of working surface can be changed quickly due to sudden changes in weather conditions, and types of work to be done.
The following control measures can be implemented to mitigate the risks associated with unstable working surfaces.
- Regular Inspection of Working Surfaces: Frequent and thorough inspections of the working surfaces must be done to identify the potential hazards before they cause accidents. This may include checking the stability of surface, and loose materials, or looking for signs of damage.
- Slip-Resistant Materials: Ensure that working surfaces are made of anti-resistant materials whenever possible. By doing so, the risks of slips and falls can be reduced, particularly in poor weather conditions.
- Use Correct Equipment: For any tasks that required ladders or other climbing equipment, ensure that they are securely fixed and inspected for signs of defects or damage.
- Consider the weather condition: Weather condition monitoring and responding is important. Poor weather conditions such as rain, snow, or ice can make the surface dangerous and it may be necessary to postpone work until/unless conditions are improved.
- Training: All concerned staff and workers must be appropriately trained to understand the hazards, risks, and preventive control measures related to working on unstable working surfaces.
3. Not Providing Edge Protection
Adequate edge protection of elevated working platforms is important and critical while working at height, especially near the edges of platforms, edges of roofs, and other elevated working platforms. Unprotected edges of working platforms are having high potential to increase the risks of falls and injuries.
Edge protection may be required for many situations, such as when work is taking place on open roofs, elevated platforms, near excavations or holes, or any other drop-off. Inadequate edge protection might lead to falling tools and materials causing serious personal injury to below workers due to being hit by falling objects.
- Guardrails: Guardrails are barriers erected on the edge of platforms or another elevated work surface to prevent employees from falling. Guardrails usually consist of top rails, mid rails, and toe boards with the intention to protect workers, tools, and materials from falling. Edge protection is crucial to avoid falling objects from heights.
- Toe Board: The purpose of the toe boards is to protect tools and materials from falling down caused by being kicked or knocked off. It is a low barrier fixed at the edges of the platform. The aim of toe boards shall be edge protection. So always provide proper edge protection to avoid falling objects.
- Use of Safety Net: A safety net can be used with the aim to catch falling workers, tools, and materials. It is installed below the working area, and this is an additional layer of protection, so identify the potential hazard work at height, and provide adequate protection before the start of work at height.
4. Scaffolding Collapse
Scaffolding is the most important temporary working platform to conduct working at height activity, especially for construction, and maintenance jobs. Scaffolding can be collapsed due to poorly constructed, overloading, unauthorized alteration, and inadequate maintenance. Scaffolding collapse can result in serious injury or even fatalities and property damage.
There are many factors for scaffolding to be collapsed such as overloading, lack of bracing, improper ground condition, use of defective or damaged components, scaffolding erection by untrained personnel, and environmental condition, such as high wind speed. Scaffolding can also be collapsed due to the impact of machinery or other construction equipment.
To mitigate the hazards and risks associated with scaffolding collapse, the following control measures are to be implemented to avoid scaffolding collapse.
- Scaffolding Erection & Dismantle by Trained Personnel: Only trained personnel must be deployed to design, install, and dismantle the scaffolding platform following the manufacturer’s guidance and local regulations.
- Regular Inspection: Scaffolding structures must be inspected by competent and authorized personnel. This inspection should take place during the scaffolding erection, modification, and dismantling process. Scaffolding should also be inspected at set intervals during the use of the scaffold. Scaffolding should also be inspected if there are any severe weather conditions, such as heavy rain, strong wind speed, etc.
- Maintenance And Repair: It is the most crucial thing to identify and remove the damaged or defective components of scaffolding from use immediately without any delay. Conduct regular monitoring of scaffolding to ensure adequate stability of the scaffolding structure.
- Ensure Proper Foundation: Erection of scaffolding must be done on solid and stable ground. Mobile scaffolding should be equipped with wheels locked to avoid unwanted movement of the mobile scaffold. Ensure that there are no workers on the mobile scaffold while moving the mobile scaffold from one place to another.
- Know The Load Limit: Workers required to work on the scaffolding platform, should know the capacity of the scaffolding structure and avoid exceeding it. This includes the weight of workers, tools, and materials.
- Weather Conditions: Concerned job supervisor and safety representative should monitor poor weather conditions, such as heavy rain, strong wind, or snow. Don’t allow work at height activity in adverse weather conditions.
- Secure The Scaffold: Scaffolding structures must be secured adequately with adjacent structures or building to provide additional stability.
- Training: Workers should be adequately trained on safe work practices while working on scaffolding. Workers should be aware of overloading and the importance of regular inspection of scaffolding structures.
5. Poor Weather Conditions
Working at height can be dangerous due to poor weather conditions, such as heavy rain, strong wind speed, snow, and ice. Rain, ice, and snow can make the working surface slippery which causes slip, and fall risk, Whereas, Strong wind can cause instability or make it difficult to handle materials in the workplace.
Weather conditions can be changed rapidly, and it can affect working at height activity and lead to accidents. For instance, a sudden rainstorm can cause the workplace surface slippery, or a strong wind can cause a worker to lose balance while working on a rooftop. A strong wind can also cause to knock loose materials off from elevated workplaces.
A variety of controls are explored here to mitigate the risks associated with poor weather conditions while performing working at height activity.
- Posponde The Work: The most effective control to avoid hazards due to poor weather conditions is to postpone the work during adverse weather conditions if the weather forecast predicts unsafe weather conditions, then consider rescheduling the task.
- Monitoring Weather Conditions: To avoid working in poor weather conditions, monitor the local weather reports and forecasts to be updated with upcoming weather conditions.
- Training: Workers must be trained on the hazards associated with working in adverse weather conditions. they must know what precautions should be taken in case of poor weather conditions. This can help workers to understand when it’s safe to work, and when it’s not.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Workers might be required to wear waterproof clothing depending on weather conditions. Workers should wear safety shoes equipped with anti-slip soles to avoid slipping and falling on wet, or icy surfaces.
- Regular Surface Inspection: Conduct regular work surfaces inspection to ensure that they are not in unsafe conditions, such as slippery, and unstable caused by poor weather conditions.
- Comply With Safe Work Procedure: To ensure safe working conditions, develop the work procedures by implementing limits on wind speed, temperatures, and precipitation.
- Secure Loose Materials: Secure the loose materials properly otherwise, they might be blown due to strong wind speed.
6. Failure of Lifting Equipment
Failure of lifting equipment (hoists, cranes, man baskets, man lifts, scissors lifts, etc.) used frequently for shifting the workers at elevated areas can result in serious injuries, or huge property damage. It may include falls from height, crushing injuries, or being struck by falling objects. There are various causes of the failure of lifting equipment, such as lack of equipment maintenance, overloading, operating in an unsafe manner, mechanical failure, or environmental factors like strong wind speed, etc.
- Regular inspection of equipment: Inspection of lifting equipment must be done regularly to identify the issues before they lead to failure. All lifting equipment should be inspected and certified by a competent person to ensure sound conditions of lifting equipment.
- Preventive Maintenance: Regular preventive maintenance of equipment can increase the life of the equipment and can help to prevent unexpected failures. This can include lubricating moving parts, checking the physical appearance of the equipment, replacement of worn-out components, or rectifying minor issues before they become major problems.
- Training: Ensure that only trained and certified operators are operating the equipment in a safe manner. The operator should know the limitations of equipment use, how to inspect it, and what to do in case of any malfunctions.
- Environment Factors: Consider environmental factors, such as strong wind speed, rainstorms, temperature, and ground conditions (uneven, unstable), which can affect the performance of equipment.
- Load Limits: Overloading of lifting equipment is the most common cause of equipment failures resulting in serious accidents at the workplace. Every lifting equipment has a safe working limit (SWL) that should not be exceeded.
- Safe Operation Practice: To avoid the failure of equipment, always comply with the manufacturer’s instructions and local regulations while operating the equipment. This will include monitoring speed limits, using safety devices, and following a safe system of equipment operation.
- Emergency Procedures: There should be a clear procedure for what to do in the event of equipment failure. This can be included emergency stop procedures, to whom should report, and evacuation procedures.
7. Lack of Training
Workers working without or with inadequate training can pose a high risk of accidents while they involved in height work activity. Untrained personnel may not be able to identify the potential hazards associated with height work, moreover, they will not understand how to use personal protective equipment properly, and what to do if any emergency situations occur while performing a task at elevated areas. There is more possibility to ignore safety procedures by untrained or inadequately trained workers leading to preventable accidents in the workplace.
In order to mitigate the risks associated with lack of training while working at heights, the following effective control measures must be considered:
- Comprehensive Training: All workers involved in working height activity must be adequately trained in working at height course. This will allow them to understand the proper use of protective equipment, and what to do in case of an emergency occurs while working at height.
- Job-Specific Training: Training must be specific to the tasks workers will carry out. For instance, a worker operating a man lift will require different training than a worker working on a scaffolding platform with the use of harnesses and lanyards.
- Competency Checks of Training: It is crucial to conduct periodic assessments of the workplace to ensure the effectiveness of training provided to the workers. This can verify that workers have understood their training and they applied their knowledge correctly on the job while they work at heights.
- Safety Briefings: A regular safety briefing must be conducted by the job supervisor and safety representative before starting the job at heights to remind the workers of the hazards and control measures for the safe execution of working at height activity.
- Create a Safety Culture: Conduct a safety award ceremony to promote positive safety culture in the workplace. This will encourage the workers to comply with a safe system of work when they conduct their tasks at height.
8. Improper Use of Equipment
Improper use of equipment is a common cause of accidents when working at heights. This may include using equipment for a purpose it was not designed for, alteration of safety devices from equipment, or not maintaining equipment properly. For instance, Using a short ladder might be required the workers to overreach and cause accidents, Working at more than 1.8-meter height and not securing full body harnesses, not storing equipment properly, and leading to damage that makes it unsafe to use.
In order to mitigate the risks associated with improper use of equipment, the following effective control measures must be considered:
- Proper Training: All workers must be trained on how to use equipment in a safe manner. This may include how to use, inspect, and store the equipment to avoid failure while using them for working at height purposes.
- Close supervision: Close supervision can ensure that workers are using the equipment correctly when they work at heights. Supervisors can rectify the unsafe act or condition on the spot and identify the gaps in training effectiveness that must be re-conducted to educate the workers properly.
- Provide Clear Instructions & Signage: It is very important to provide clear and easy-to-understand instructions for all equipment, and warning signages or labels to be displayed wherever applicable.
- Provision of Appropriate Equipment: Always provide the right equipment for the right job as it will reduce the temptation to misuse equipment. For example, workers provided with short ladders are often at risk of either overreaching or standing on top rung to perform their height tasks, both of which are unsafe practices.
- Regular Inspection of Equipment: Equipment must be regularly inspected with the aim to identify any defects or damages that could make the equipment unsafe. All equipment that is not in sound condition, must be tagged with “DO NOT USE” and should be taken out from services until/unless it gets repaired or replaced.
- Enforcement of Safe Use Practices: Safe use practices for any equipment must be addressed and enforced among task operatives. Workers must be aware of the consequences of misuse of equipment in terms of their safety and disciplinary actions that might be taken against them.
9. Non-compliance With Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Non-compliance with personal protective equipment by task operatives can be dangerous for them when they work at heights. Without wearing proper PPE, workers are at high risk of injury caused by falls from heights, falling objects, and hazards existing from tasks.
A worker might be hurt by falling objects if he is not wearing a safety helmet. A worker might fall from an elevated work floor if he is not wearing and using a full body harness in a proper way. Workers may also slip and fall in the workplace if they are not wearing appropriate anti-slip safety shoes.
To mitigate the risk associated with non-compliance with personal protective equipment, several controls can be taken:
- Providing required PPE: Employers must provide all required PPEs to workers for working at heights. This could include fall protection equipment (Full body harness, lanyards, lifelines, retractable lifelines, anchor points), anti-slip safety shoes, safety helmet, safety glasses, and hand gloves.
- Training on the proper use of PPEs: It must be ensured that workers are using their PPEs properly because just providing the PPEs is not enough to protect them from being injured in the workplace while they work at heights. This can be possible after providing proper training to the workers on how to use PPEs.
- Enforcement of PPE use: Employers must enforce the use of PPEs by task operatives while they work at heights. To ensure it, conduct regular checks for PPEs compliance, disciplinary measures for non-compliance, and establish a culture where wearing PPEs is seen as a norm.
- Proper inspection and maintenance of PPEs: Inspection of PPEs must be done on a regular basis to ensure it’s in sound condition. Don’t use any damaged or defective PPEs. Damaged or defective PPEs must be replaced immediately.
Working at height can pose significant hazards if it’s not planned properly with effective safety precautions. Proactively identifications of hazards and risks and implementing adequate safety measures can significantly mitigate the risk of injury during working at heights. Always comply with safety procedures to ensure safe work practices when working at heights.
Q1. What is work at height definition?
Ans. Working at height means, working at any elevation where if proper precautions are not taken a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury (For example a fall through a fragile surface).
Q2. What are the examples of work at height?
Ans. Work at height examples include using mobile & tower scaffolding, using ladders & step ladders for gaining access, using man basket, man lift, scissor lift, and working on the edge of deep excavation, etc.
Q3. What are the common hazards in work at height?
Ans. The common hazards associated with work at height include Unstable working surfaces, unsecured access ladders, inadequate edge protection, missing guardrails system, poor weather conditions, failure of lifting equipment untrained task operatives and crane operators, exceeding SWL of equipment, not wearing PPEs, etc.
Q4. Why do full-body harnesses & lanyards need to be inspected?
Ans. Inspection of full body harness and lanyard is a proactive safety measure that identifies the conditions of full body harness & lanyard. By doing this practice, damaged or defective harnesses and lanyards shall be identified and will be removed from the work site immediately.
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