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News added on 09.09.2019

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Working at height

What qualifies as "working at height"?

An employee was seriously injured when he fell from a lorry bed while unloading the vehicle. Was this a “fall from height”, and what was the employer expected to do to protect the employee?

The employee worked for Braithwaite Engineers Ltd, a manufacturer of steel water storage tanks and supporting towers. He was unloading a lorry at the company’s site in Wales when he fell from the lorry bed. He sustained serious injuries, including multiple fractures to his head, ribs, shoulder blade and fingers, and was absent from work for over five months as a result.

The HSE’s investigation found that the company had failed to provide its employees with suitable and clear instructions and training to ensure that they did not access lorry beds in an unsafe manner.

Although “work at height” is usually associated with activities such as working up ladders, on roofs and scaffolding, etc., a person is considered by law to be working at height if they could be injured by falling any distance from one level to a lower one. Therefore, if employees have to carry out a task at any height, their employer is expected to assess and control the risks of falling, whatever the nature of the work involved.

Braithwaite Engineers Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching its duty under s.2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees. It was fined £9,400 and ordered to pay costs of £1,680.

Although the distance the employee fell was relatively short compared to many falls from height cases, it is classed as a fall from height. The serious injuries he sustained illustrate why any work involving a risk of falling from one level to a lower one is treated as work at height. Employers must assess and control the risks of falling, including giving workers appropriate training and information and providing work at height control measures where necessary.

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