Falls from height are one of the most common causes of workplace deaths and injuries. A fall is a calamity for those involved, of course, but it’s also a business disaster. That’s so, because, according to the Work at Height Regulations (2005), employers always bear responsibility for their employees’ health, safety and welfare.
If you’re sending an employee into a high-risk situation, you’re going to be the one in the firing line if things go wrong. Here’s what the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has to say on the subject: “Duty holders have the responsibility to ensure they have suitable competent advice to be able to fully understand the risks employees face, and implement adequate control measures so they can work safely.”
Those considerations apply just as much to working at height as they do to dealing with hazardous materials or treating drunks in a casualty department. It’s up to you to make sure every task is properly planned, that you’re providing the necessary support and supervision, and that the people carrying out the work are equipped with the skills, knowledge and experience to do it safely.
Lone worker vs. team
While managing people working at heights is always a heavy responsibility, managers have generally found it easier to take charge of teams than lone workers. That’s so because the economics of teamworking tend to favour collective protection equipment like guardrails, scissor lifts and tower scaffolds, and because team members can usually be relied upon to monitor each others’ compliance with safety procedures.
But there are signs that COVID19 is changing things. While it’s not easy to manage infection controls for a team working at height, it remains your legal responsibility to ensure that your workers are adhering to social distancing guidelines. That being the case, we’re seeing a trend towards ‘lone worker’ arrangements… meaning new and different safety concerns.
HSE defines lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.”
While there is no legal prohibition on lone working, there’s no doubt that such practices can entail increased risks. The lone worker will need strong self-discipline to maintain all the safety procedures to which they adhered as members of a team, and the shift from collective to personal protection equipment is likely to mean longer setup times and require greater concentration.
Managing lone working at height
To a large extent, management concerns around lone workers at height resemble those for teams.
As always, you should approach each new assignment with a clean slate, carrying out a full risk assessment in order to identify potential hazards, training requirements and the particular items of safety equipment which your lone worker will need to carry out their tasks safely.
You’ll still need to think through everything that could go wrong and come up with a ‘disaster plan’ for recovery in the event of a fall or other mishap.
But your normal concerns will be amplified, because there may be no-one to raise the alarm when things go wrong. That being the case, your preparations should include plans for maintaining regular contact, especially if your lone worker is working remotely from other employees. You may also consider investing in escalated alarmed devices to alert colleagues in case of problems.
Crucially, if you’re unsure of the steps you need to take to protect lone workers, seek expert advice and guidance before you make any assignments.
As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone on your team who’s working at height has appropriate skills, knowledge, and experience… and that begins with training.
Your lone workers will need basic knowledge of risk assessment, working procedures, rescue at height, and manual handling. You’ll also need to provide specialised training for those tasks which you’re asking them to perform, and for the particular items of safety equipment with which you’re issuing them.
At Safer at Work, we are pleased to use our quarter-century of experience in the renewables industry to offer Global Wind Organisation (GWO) courses which cover working at height, manual handling, fire safety and rescue training.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can prepare your lone workers to carry out their work safely and responsibly.