If employers with staff working at heights can answer three questions about their projects with a definitive ‘yes’ they should be on the right track to providing a safe environment for their employees and meeting the new Health and Safety regulations, says industry expert Doug Carson.
“The first question to answer is ‘do you have a written plan?’ This must include what the work involves, who will be involved with it, and the gear that might be needed to execute the job whether that is a few notes in a diary for erecting a Sky dish, or an extensive plan for building a hydro dam.”
The second question is whether their height safety gear is safe to use. Proof it has been regularly inspected, with the results documented.
“It’s clearly not acceptable for some gear that has been sitting in a shed for 10 years or more to be just pulled out and used. There has to be proof of a company’s full inventory of gear relating to safety matters and a record of its regular inspection by a competent person. In the case of harness, an inspection must be carried out every six months in line with the minimum inspection regime recommended by manufacturers.”
The final question a company needs to answer is around the competency of the person carrying out the work task. Do they have the knowledge, training and experience that enable them to do the job?
“These details must also be written in the plan including any specific training the person using the gear has completed.”
Doug says the requirement to write these details down in a plan is often enough to stop a company meeting their obligations.
“Some people think this is an onerous task. However it is essential a plan is formulated when there are people operating at height. If a job looks dangerous, perhaps it is and what is the operator doing about it?”
Doug has heard anecdotal evidence of some firms even rejecting the use of appropriate height safety equipment, as they believe it ‘slows them down’.
“It takes literally 30 seconds to put on a harness, another 30 seconds to check it and a few seconds more for two pairs of eyes to go over the gadget before it is used. If best practice guidelines are followed there is no reason why anyone should get hurt doing these sorts of jobs.”
On the whole most companies are trying to embrace change. However there is still some resistance, often from one or two man band operators, or older members of the industry who are set in their ways, he says.
“It’s critical everyone is educated on the importance of safety on the work site, and understands the effectiveness and other benefits of appropriate height safety equipment such as an increase in efficiency. Rather than impede the worker, the use of work positioning systems for example, allows them to have their hands free, which can really increase productivity.”
As a technical advisor with PBI Height Safety, Doug has worked with the team to produce a free set of documents to assist both employers and employees to understand and meet their obligations when working at height.
“We have a 30 page booklet that we send out free to users, employers and all leading retailers that talks about their responsibilities under the new Act and what they need to do to be compliant.”
The pack also contains a number of ideas employers can use as part of their obligations to provide a written plan. These include everything from health and safety advice to site specific plans.
“We often find that companies are doing everything right on site, but are just not documenting it properly. This package should make it a little easier for them. The end goal is that every employee can operate comfortably and without undue risk at work, for them get home safely every night.”