When a ladder doesn’t cut it

Falls from height are a leading cause of occupational injury worldwide. According to the Health and Safety Executive, the United Kingdom’s 2018 Annual Statistics show that 27 percent of fatalities at work were as a result of falls.

In a developing country like South Africa where price is king, using low-cost independent contractors for undertaking work at height has gained popular appeal. Some employers believe that professing ignorance is then an adequate defence when incidents occur.

Alti Kriel, CEO of the Institute for Work at Height (IWH), disagrees: “It is each employer’s duty to ensure that he or she is doing everything reasonable and practical to make sure the company’s employees are working safely!”

According to Nosa Working at Height, South African legislation requires employers and contractors to designate competent people to carry out risk assessments, document fall-protection plans and implement the controls stated in the fall-protection plans. However, this will not be possible if the appropriate training is not implemented.

Kriel says: “The IWH helps members develop strategies to ensure that the applicable training is provided, without it costing them an arm and a leg, or a life for that matter.”

He adds: “To ensure that these standards are upheld at the required level, the institute conducts audits on its members to ensure compliance. This is not in the form of policing, but rather as a drive toward continuous development.”

Kriel says employers of people who work at height should ask themselves:

• Is our compliance for our employees working at height sufficient and are we putting our employees at risk in order to offer a more competitive rate to clients?

• Are we using the correct equipment for the specific job and complying with the appropriate standards?

• What are the legal implications if we do not comply?

Nosa lists six places where the risk of injury from falls is high:

• Rooftops

• Access ladders

• Overhead cranes and gantries

• Truck, tanker and rail loading bays

• Factory machinery

• Confined spaces

Nosa goes on to explain that engineered controls are often required to keep workers safe while working in outside loading bays or during the tarping of trucks.

In the absence of permanent lifelines, engineering controls (such as structural anchors) may be required to prevent workers from falling when working at height, or in areas where portable anchoring equipment cannot be used.

Establishing a relationship with professional bodies involved in the field of working at height can assist companies to ensure success in the prevention of accidents.

With adequate support, there should be no reason why workers can’t be kept safe while working at height.

Nosa and the IWH were contacted independantly for comment – ed.

Working right at height

Rope access systems may be used in a diverse range of industries; from commercial building to industrial, construction, power generation, mining and petrochemicals. However, the steps to ensure worker safety at height remain the same, says Mike Zinn, marketing manager for Skyriders.

A highly comprehensive and detailed planning session is conducted for every contract, taking into account all possible factors, from the overall methodology right down to task-specific risk assessment.

Each step of the project is analysed in order to be able to compile a risk profile, inclusive of the level of danger, the percentage probability of potential incidents, procedures and equipment needed, and how the total risk can best be mitigated.

“This process of detailed, task-specific risk assessment, as well as the accompanying fall-protection planning, ensures that the rope-access team can operate safely and complete the full scope of work successfully,” Zinn points out.

Rope-access technicians are required to undertake the specific work required – including inspection, repair, cleaning, painting, or installation. This means that Skyriders’ rope-access technicians also need to be qualified in trade skills such as welding, non-destructive testing and inspection, grit blasting, ultra-high pressure washing, protective-coating applications, and rigging.

Rope-access technicians are required to progress or renew their level of expertise every three years, from Level 1 to Level 3, with the total number of hours logged being indicative of the experience accumulated.

“Considering what an organisation stands to lose, it is important that companies partner with certified service providers,” concludes Zinn.

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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