Working at height is one of the leading causes of fatalities, as well as major injuries according to the HSE. In line with their definition, working at height refers to work in any place, where a person could fall a distance and attain personal injury. Due to the serious nature of this type of work it is essential that those carrying out work at height follow all necessary guidance and comply with all control measures.
During the summer months, whilst schools are closed, it is common for the majority of work at height to be carried out – preparing schools for September, fixing any issues and performing any necessary maintenance tasks. This summer, working at height is not the only health and safety concern which needs to be at the forefront of our minds. We must also ensure that we are being covid-19 secure and performing any tasks in a manner in which condenses the risk of spreading the virus. This will include things such as complying with social distancing guidelines, wearing the relevant and required PPE and ensuring hygiene standards are maintained.
Whilst the coronavirus continues to be one of the biggest health and safety concerns for all, the Ladder Association has issued new guidance for working at height during these times in order to ensure workers remember the importance of safety when working at height and understand how Covid-19 might impact such work. The guidance covers specific information such as how long the virus lasts on ladders and how rescue plans may need to be reviewed.
One of the most important aspects of working at height is performing a risk assessment, and the guidance published by the Ladder Association highlights how it is now important to consider the risks of Covid-19 within a working at height risk assessment as it will impact things such as your rescue plan. You must consider things such as what risks are associated with rescuing someone who may have become ill whilst working, for example. It is important to consider how Covid-19 could impact the work at every stage to have a fully comprehensive risk assessment.
Safety When Working at Height
The first step when performing any job which involves working at height is to assess the risks. You must weigh up the most important factors such as the height, the duration, the frequency and the condition of the surface which is being worked on. All of these factors can impact the risks of performing the job. The first control measure to consider when it comes to working at height is whether the task is necessary – wherever it is practically reasonable to do so, work at height should be avoided.
If it cannot be avoided, falls should be prevented as best possible by utilising the correct equipment and a space which is safe. The distance should also be minimised to reduce the risk of injury should a fall from height occur. At every stage, consider measures which protect everyone involved above those that would only protect the individual. Collective protection should be things such as scaffolding, guardrails and scissor lifts. Personal protection would be a safety harness or anything that requires the individual to act in order for it to be effective.
When working from height it is essential to ensure that the equipment being used is suitable and stable as well as properly maintained and checked. Ladders should not be overloaded nor should it be rested against weak surfaces. Not only is it essential that your equipment is correct for use, but only let those who are trained to do so to work at height.
Make sure to take necessary precautions when working on or near surfaces which are fragile and provide protection from any falling objects. It is essential to have a plan for emergency evacuation or rescue in case anything occurs which should not have.
Where possible social distancing should be maintained. This should be 2m where possible, however where not possible it should be 1m+. This means, you can be within 1 metre of another person if you have additional protection, such as a face covering, or you are outside. Whilst some of the work at height may be done outside, it won’t all be so this is important to remember. Schools may have relevant social distancing signs and guidance; however, it is important to remind yourself and others of this. You can also use your own floor tape to mark out social distancing requirements on the floor and try to avoid sharing workstations with another person.
Obviously, given the risks associated with working from height, the social distancing regulations allow for contact where it is needed – should someone be in a compromising position or involved in an accident. If someone needs immediate help, you must give it.
Face coverings are mandatory on public transport and in shops in England. They are not mandatory in offices, or in schools. However, it is the discretion of the individual as to whether one is worn. When working at height, you may be in closer contact with other people than social distancing advises – in these instances it may be advisable for parties to wear a face covering however only where your safety at height allows you to do so.
Hygiene has always been a priority, but now even more so. It is important that when working at height in schools you are taking all the necessary hygiene precautions and maintaining the highest standards of hygiene. This includes using hand sanitising upon entry and exit from the building as well as washing your hands often, for at least 20 seconds at a time. As you’ll likely be handling equipment often, it is important to regularly clean this and sanitise your hands between uses, especially if you cannot avoid sharing with another person.
There should be frequent cleaning of work areas and equipment between uses, as well as surfaces and objects which are touched regularly. Also, make sure to clear your own workspace of waste and belongings at the end of the shift.
Where there has been a suspected case of Covid-19, refer to the specific government guidance on cleaning.