Roofing, by definition, involves working at heights and being able to do this safely is absolutely the most important thing to focus on. Officially, from a HSE perspective, you should plan any work you do in such a way that you don’t need to actually work at height to begin with! Obviously this is impossible when you need to be on a roof! You do, however, need to take all of the steps necessary to keep yourself and your staff safe. Working at height is the biggest cause of death and serious injury in the construction industry, especially for smaller contractors and projects.
So What Should You Do When Working At Heights?
The official guidelines for working at heights as laid out by the HSE are as follows:
- Avoid working at heights where it reasonably practicable to do so e.g. by assembly at ground level and:
- Prevent any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury e.g. by using a scaffold platform with double guard-rail and toeboards; and
- Arrest a fall with equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall e.g. safety nets, where work at height cannot be avoided or the fall prevented.
You must also make sure your staff are instructed on the precautions they need to take. Many accidents from working at heights are, at least partly, due to workers taking unnecessary risks. Have a method statement that is available to them because this makes it easier to manage the work and make sure all involved know their responsibilities to keep themselves, and their colleagues, safe. A good method statement will list the hazards involved with the work and outline the precautions to take. There ought to be some simple sketches though the document doesn’t need to be complicated or longer than necessary. Try not to use any generalisations either. Each job is different with its own unique hazards so a generic template is unlikely to be sufficient.
The Right Equipment
If your staff need any equipment, make sure it is available and in proper working order. List it in the method statement so it is clear to everyone who should use it and why. You should also indicate where it can be found. The number one cause of a situation that results in injury is rushing. If one of your staff are under pressure to get a job done, and some safety equipment they need isn’t where it is supposed to be, they are more likely to make do without which very often is no problem at all. That is, until something goes wrong…
The hard part is obviously that for a small job, or a small firm, the cost of taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety of all the staff can outweigh the profit. You MUST NOT cut corners with this. Factor any additional costs into your quote and if that makes you too expensive then that’s unfortunate. If you do cut costs you risk finding that the money you save is insignificant to the money you lose if there is accident. That’s not just your staff but the general public too. You could argue that’s why you have (or should have) public liability insurance but it won’t be so comforting if, after making a claim, your premium shoots through the roof.
What To Keep In Mind When Working At Heights…
- Do as much of the work as possible at ground level. If materials can be prepared and then safely transported to where they need to be then that’s ideal
- If materials, or staff, need to be at a height make sure they can safely get there
- Make sure that any equipment used is strong enough, stable enough and regularly checked and maintained.
- Remember to provide protection from falling objects. Safety netting is a good way to do this
- Do NOT overload ladders – if your staff need to carry equipment up a ladder make sure it’s safe for them to do so. If not, find another way
- Avoid overreaching on ladders
- Do NOT rest a ladder on a weak surface such as glass or plastic guttering
- You should not use a ladder for a strenuous task and for no long than 30 minutes at a time. If this is going to be the case then hire scaffolding
Finally, don’t send anybody to work at height who doesn’t need to be there. If they haven’t got the skills or experience for a job then you shouldn’t let them work there.
Don’t take any risks with safety. It’s not difficult to see why working at height can be dangerous and even a simple, small accident can be exacerbated because of it.
You can see the official HSE guidelines on working at height here.
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