Whatever your industry might be, the chances of needing a worker or employee to access a hazardous area such as a roof to conduct essential maintenance are always there. If you're a building owner or a site manager, the legal regulations to ensure that workers stay safe as they work at height need to be adhered to.
Height safety and protection equipment will drastically minimize, if not eliminate, accidents at the job site. According to the Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released January – March 2020 Workplace & Safety Report, 12 workers died in the first three months of 2020. The construction industry recorded the highest number of fatalities, followed by the transportation and logistics sector, and manufacturing.
Developing a culture of safety, especially in cases like this, will go a long way to minimize fatalities and injuries. However, equipping your workers with the necessary personal protection equipment is a basic minimal legal expectation .
Developing a culture of safety when working at height
The safety culture should permeate throughout the organization to highlight the significance of paying close attention to details. Most of the accidents at the job site can be attributed to negligence and complacency. Familiarity can lead to a false sense of confidence, which is why workers overlook the dangers.
A culture of safety means creating a “work at height” hazards list and safety procedures for workers to follow every time they go to the construction site. It can be burdensome at first, but you are always training them to be aware of their surroundings.
Where possible, work at height should be avoided. If this is not possible, it should be carried out in “safe areas”, where preventative measures are in place, e.g. parapet or roof guardrails with a minimum height of 1.1metres. In cases when maintenance work has to be conducted in unprotected areas, regulations require you to invest in safety equipment to reduce or eliminate workplace injury or the risk of a fatality. Workers should also be trained to recognise the risks of their work environment and therefore develop the mindset of always wearing personal fall protection equipment at all times when they are at the job site.
Working at Heights Code of Practice
Singapore’s WSH Council has outlined the standards to elevate the safety level in construction sites, particularly work at height safety. For instance, the organization must craft a fall protection plan to reduce, if not eliminate, the risks in the environment. It should also identify the persons responsible if accidents occur.
If you’re the person responsible for this, you must:
- Assess the existing procedures and safety mechanisms to make sure they comply with industry standards
- Ensure that all safety measures are adopted to reduce the risks
- Identify the gaps in the implementation of the working at heights code of practice
- Come up with emergency response procedures in case of workplace injury
It’s also important to create a hazards list for working at height. This list, along with the fall protection plan, will eventually be incorporated into the company’s Safety and Health Management System for sustainability.
Five Crucial Areas to Consider to Ensure Worker Safety
I. Safeguard the work area
Again, the first course of action must be to eliminate the need to work at height by considering relocating the job to the ground or using long-handled tools. But if it’s unavoidable, ensure that the workers are doing it at a designated “safe place” as many factors might put them at risk such as:
- Exterior edges
- Parapet walls
- Loose debris
- Extreme heat
- Slippery areas
- Chemical exposure
- Repetitive motion injuries
The work area should have ready access to scaffoldings proper fall protection equipment, and other protective means to reduce the distance and mitigate the consequences of fall. You must also come prepared with a hazards checklist, part of which is to wear personal protective gear always when they go up on an unprotected elevated platform.
II. Verify your workers’ qualifications
Ensure that the workers are adequately trained and certified to do this risky job. In Singapore, it is necessary for workers to undergo certain qualifications such as Work-at-Height Course, and must carry a photographic identity card that must be checked before they can be allowed to access a roof.
Training qualifications must also include the use of fall protection equipment: how to put it on correctly, safety measures when the equipment fails, and the safety checks while at work.
III. Check the integrity of your fall protection equipment
Always make it a habit to inspect the fall arrest harness, lanyard, safety net, and other pieces of equipment. The workers and safety coordinator must do this before work starts and after their shift ends to confirm that they are not damaged and comply with relevant workplace standards. The equipment must be properly fitted to the workers’ bodies. Consider the following:
- Footwear must be suitable to slip prevention
- Sunglasses that won’t cause glare or reflection
- Safety helmets that will remain in place in case of a fall
- Safety harnesses that are in good condition
IV. Create a risk assessment days before work starts
Another pre-work at height to-do is to perform a risk assessment, which is essentially a document detailing what the workers are accessing a roof for. It must also include a method statement that communicates a plan of action based on the findings of the risk assessment. A good method statement clearly outlines:
- Fall prevention (collective and personal)
- Inspection requirements
- Supervision requirements
- Preventative plan to avoid unauthorized access to the work area
- Weather conditions that workers may be exposed to and the specific measures to address these
- Conditions where emergency services would not be reliable in the event of an accident along with the plan of action
- A rescue plan
The person responsible for on-site safety should receive this before the workers arrive.
V. Make sure a dynamic risk assessment is carried out on the day itself
On the day of the work, a dynamic risk assessment, or the final stage of the risk assessment process, must then be conducted by the people intended to carry out the task. This is why it’s important that the workers on the job are qualified to assess and spot safety gaps before they happen. The dynamic risk assessment covers:
- The working environment
- Hazardous substances
- Means of access
- Risk of violence & stress
- Escape plan in case of a fire
- Animals and creatures that may obstruct the work area
If anything unexpected happens, such as an equipment failure or a need for other equipment that wasn’t pre-planned, a new risk assessment must be performed. Depending on how quickly the new safety measures are identified, work may need to be postponed at a later day.
Developing a culture of safety does not cost anything as it is changing a mindset and attitude, more than anything else. However, it is incumbent upon the organization to provide workers with the proper safety measures including fall arrest equipment and other safety devices when they are working at height. Failure to do so may invite legal trouble and government penalties.