Work at height is one of the most dangerous areas in which to work in the UK, and there are multiple myths and incorrect beliefs rife across the industry, which despite their apparent harmless and anecdotal nature, actually put workers at risk every day.
From misunderstandings about equipment to incorrect beliefs about how certain jobs should be carried out, many of these myths stem from out of date working practices or even personal opinions which are taken as fact.
When one of these myths is incorporated into a site, it can be difficult to get rid of, and even employees that know it is incorrect may find themselves put in the uncomfortable position of having to go along with work which has now been made dangerous by the incorrect beliefs of colleagues, or even supervisors.
In this blog, we take a look at some of the most common wrong beliefs which still persist, and hopefully give you the confidence to challenge these myths when they crop up.
Myth 1: ‘I’ll only be up there for a couple of minutes, I don’t need protection’.
This is one of the most persistent, and unfortunately dangerous, myths in the industry: the idea that short duration work somehow does not require the same work at height safety equipment as longer jobs.
Although Work at Height Regulations do not specify a length of time after which fall protection equipment becomes mandatory, the correct equipment should be used from the moment you are considered to be working at height
Employers are legally required to provide co
mpliant fall protection equipment, and to ensure that risk assessments and rescue plans are in place prior to the work commencing.
Proper preparation is a vital part of work at height, preventing injuries and saving lives. No matter how long the work will take, you should make sure you have everything you need.
Myth 2: ‘It’s too expensive.’
Often, this is less a myth than wilful ignorance or greed on the part of site owners or managers, and an excuse to cut corners and save a few quid.
To a point, it is true: fall protection systems, especially on larger roofs, can be a costly investment, but it is worth remembering that this is all relative. However, preventing accidents on your site should be number one priority, especially if work at height is a common occurrence.
Investing in the correct equipment and PPE will minimise the chances of an incident occurring and, what’s more, absolve you of any legal consequences should one occur. The equipment might be an initial cost for you, but when weighed against investigation fees, fines, compensation and, most importantly, the human cost, it is a small price to pay.
Myth 3: ‘It’s only a couple of metres, that’s not high.’
This myth comes from a basic understanding of what constitutes working at height. You do not have to be on a roof for the term to apply, just working off the ground is enough to put you ‘at height’ and therefore at risk.
Most accidents logged as falls from height occur from negligible distances. The official definition of ‘work at height’ according to the HSE is: ‘work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.’
If there is any risk of falling from the position you are working in, you are working at height, and you need to put the correct measures in place.
Myth 4: ‘I checked my equipment last week. It’s fine.’
One of the most misunderstood areas of working at height is the inspection and maintenance of fall protection systems. Many people are unaware of the legal requirements around equipment inspection, and frighteningly, a small number of workers rarely give their equipment more than a cursory glance.
Various regulations state that you should carry out a thorough inspection before each use. You should ensure all labels are correct, d-rings and attachments on harnesses are undamaged, cables on lifelines are not worn or corroded, and all sections of your equipment are in a visibly good condition.
If you do not think the system is safe to use, you should take it out of commission immediately and replace it. Harnesses should be cut up and disposed of, not just put away.
Furthermore, the law states all work at height equipment must be thoroughly inspected and recertified by a competent, independent third party every 12 months. If you are responsible for site safety and cannot produce a valid certificate after an incident occurs, you might find yourself in hot water.
Harcon inspects and recertifies hundreds of systems each year. If your equipment needs recertifying and you would like to find out more, click here.
Myth 5: ‘It’s just common sense, isn’t it?’
No. Far more goes into staying safe when working at height than common sense. Though it is hugely important all employees exposed to work at height are competent and have common sense, this must be supported with the correct training, processes and equipment.
Common sense won’t do anyone any good if they are forced to carry out work on a roof without the correct equipment or risk management processes in place. In fact, anyone who claims to possess common sense would, in this situation, refuse to carry out the work at all.
Before any work at height begins, all risk assessments, work at height policies and rescue plans should be clearly communicated with those accessing the roof, and the correct equipment – recently inspected and recertified – should be supplied to them allowing them to safely carry out the work, armed with more than their common sense.
The danger of myths
As we mentioned above, some people might feel pressured to agree with these myths and carry out unsafe work, putting their lives at risk. This is extremely dangerous, and every worker should feel comfortable challenging these beliefs where they encounter them, or seeking out support from management.
If you are responsible for site safety as owner or health and safety manager, you should ensure that these myths do not take root amongst your employees by providing the correct training and hiring only competent workers.
Next month, we will look at five more myths which could be putting the people on your site at risk.
For more information about our training or any of our work at height safety systems and services, you can get in touch with us by calling 0161 777 4230 or using our online contact form.