Proposed changes to legislation regarding work at height will have an impact on all facilities managers whether their staff are on top of a scaffold or just changing a light bulb. Duncan Astill and Sarah Lamont consider the implications for the sector
17 September 2004
Work at height has always been an issue high up the health and safety agenda. It was an area that required general consideration under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and more specific requirements under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996. Now the Health and Safety Commission is finalising its proposals for specific work at height regulations that will bring together all current requirements into one set of regulations with changes.
The key change is that the 2 metre minimum height used to define work at height at present is being removed. The new regulations will apply wherever a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury in all sectors of the economy regardless of the height at which the work is being performed.
This extension of the definition of working at height reflects research by the Health and Safety Executive indicating that 60 per cent of all major injuries are caused by falls from heights below 2 metres. The long list of examples of work at height in the guidance includes the obvious such as working on the back of a lorry or car transporter, arboriculture or shipbuilding, to using a stepladder. Every employer will therefore need to be aware of the new regulations and start planning for their implementation.
The draft regulations were published for consultation until 2 April 2004. The Health and Safety Commission is currently considering the 500 responses it received and is expected to submit to parliament final regulations and approved codes of practice before the end of the year. They are unlikely to differ substantially from the draft that we have seen.
In a nutshell
The overriding principle of the regulations is to prevent, as far as reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury. They work on a simple hierarchy of: AVOID the risk by not working at height, but, where this is not possible, PREVENT falls, and, where a risk still remains, MITIGATE the consequences of a fall.
Briefly, the regulations require the FM to risk assess, plan and organise work taking account of the weather and emergencies and make sure those working at height are competent. Appropriate work equipment should be selected, fragile surfaces need to be managed and all work equipment inspected and maintained. Separate schedules to the regulations specify additional requirements for certain equipment such as scaffolds and personal fall protections systems.
The guidance to the regulations states that in most cases compliance with well-established procedures of good practice will be sufficient to comply with theses duties.
So, while the overall level of the duty is not increased by these regulations, it is extending best practice from high risk activities such as construction to all sectors of the economy where less onerous obligations currently exist. However, the duty to mitigate the consequences of a fall, where the risk of such a fall remains (despite preventative measures), may well increase the burden of employers. For example, is there not a risk that someone could still fall over a guard rail? The guidance to the regulations also looks at some specific solutions to problems encountered in different workplaces. It is worth looking at one area to see the impact that the regulations will have.
The use of ladders
Schedule 6 sets out specific requirements for the use of ladders. The first requirement is for a person only to use a ladder: "if a risk assessment under regulation 3 of the Management Regulations has demonstrated that the use of more suitable work equipment is not justified because of the low risk and (a) the short duration of use; or (b) existing features on site which he cannot alter."
Firstly, ladders may only be used if more suitable work equipment is not justified. The length of time the job will take or the number of times the ladder will be used are likely to be the deciding factors. So, where the owner of a warehouse reviewed employees tasks, it was found that most of the lifting of stock from racking could be done by fork-lift trucks thereby removing much of the need to use ladders or climb racking. By locating the frequently used items on lower levels, he again avoided much of the need to work at height.
This only left the removal of lighter goods (which was considered a low manual handling risk) and stocktaking (which was of short duration) to be achieved using step ladders (with platforms and guard rails). Where possible working at height was avoided altogether, and, where it could not be avoided, it was dealt with in a way which was appropriate to the level of risk.
Secondly, risk assessments are required for all ladder use. The guidance says that a generic risk assessment may be suitable for simple, routine or repetitive tasks. We can therefore assume that there is no need to undertake a risk assessment every time a light bulb needs changing. For more complex tasks specific planning will need to take place which must consider the work equipment being used, the particular task to be performed, the immediate environment where the task is being performed and the weather conditions. Any equipment chosen must be inspected for damage before use.
The new regulations are likely to come into force next year. They will increase the duties of all employers and therefore FMs. Even where work at height is currently risk assessed and steps taken to prevent falls there is a new duty to mitigate the consequences of a fall where a risk still remains.Even those FMs who currently comply with industry best practice will need to review their systems of work and ensure that there is nothing more that needs to be done to protect their employees and others who may be at risk.
Duncan Astill and Sarah Lamont are partners at Bevan Ashford Solicitors