Up a height


More worker deaths are caused by falls from height than any other kind of work-related incident in the UK, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Alastair Hogg, sales director at MSA Safety, recaps on what we have learned from the year just gone, and explores what we need to be prepared for in 2019.

Working at height is commonplace in many industries, from construction to arboriculture, to firefighters to window cleaners. The tragedy is that the HSE suggests that all fall from height fatalities in the last five years could have been prevented with the correct use of appropriate fall protection equipment, training and supervision.

2018 has been a busy year for MSA Safety and the work-at-height industry, proving that there is always more that can be done when it comes to keeping people safe.  

The stats speak for themselves

Despite innovation in the fall protection industry during 2018, injuries and fatalities caused by falls from height continue to be a significant concern in the UK. 

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report, ‘Kinds of accident statistics in Great Britain, 2018’, falls from height during the five-year period from 2013 to March 2018 accounted for 26% of all fatal injuries at work (equivalent to an average of 37 fatal injuries per year). 

Key milestones form 2018

Back in December 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Working at Height was formed. The group, supported by PASMA (the Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association) and the Access Industry Forum, was formed to investigate serious injury and fatalities while working at height. 

The APPG posed questions to leaders across all industries of the health and safety sector relating to standards, regulations, reporting, primary reasons for falls, preventative measures and suggestions for innovation. 

Once answers were submitted by 6 February 2018, the APPG then held live evidence sessions in spring 2018. After considering all evidence the APPG will be reporting and recommending how the frequency of serious injuries and fatalities can be reduced.

Publication of the APPG’s findings is expected in early 2019. After which, we will analyse, distil and present these findings and our take on them.

In early 2018, the No Falls Foundation was launched – a new charity dedicated to the work-at-height sector, which is sponsored by PASMA (the Prefabricated Access Suppliers and Manufacturers Association) and is supported by all 11 member organisations of the Access Industry Forum (AIF). 

At an APPG meeting in July 2018, the No Falls Foundation reported that they had identified at least 34 million unsafe acts in the last five years, and that falls from height have caused almost 200 fatalities in that period.

In March 2018, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) published ISO 45001, the new standard for occupational health and safety. This replaced OHSAS 18001, which was the world at work’s former reference for workplace health and safety.

Organisations already certified to OHSAS 18001 will have three years to comply with the new ISO 45001 standard, although certification of conformity to ISO 45001 is not a requirement of the standard.

Two months later, in May 2018, NEBOSH (the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) announced a new, one-day qualification at the annual Health & Safety Expo, where leadership and mental health were the main themes. 

The NEBOSH HSE Certificate in Health and Safety Leadership Excellence is designed in collaboration with the HSE and is aimed at senior business leaders to empower them to lead by learned example.

At the end of 2018, PASMA ran Tower Safety Week – an annual week-long international campaign promoting tower safety and good practice. 

Throughout the week PASMA and related safety organisations highlighted and campaigned for the safe use of mobile access towers via a series of events, safety-led initiatives and educational resources.

Eyes ahead for 2019

As 2019 approaches, Brexit will of course be at the centre of the work-at-height industry’s radar. MSA Safety will be keeping a close eye on testing standards as Brexit nears.

It is not yet known if UK manufacturers of safety products will continue to be able to use the EU’s CE mark of safety standard compliance or if they will have to add a ‘UK’ mark to the current CE mark, or if the UK will revert to BS/UK standards only. 

The best thing manufacturers can do is stay alert, plan ahead and have contingency plans in place for all eventualities. 

On a positive and encouraging note, virtual reality training is expected to spearhead innovation and rapidly influence health and safety risk reduction strategies in 2019, and over the next 12 months.

In September 2018, MSA Safety held a press day where journalists could experience working at height and fall arrest systems from the safety of a London Docklands office block.

The VR “experience” has been developed for MSA by immersive media agency Render and was put to the test at the VR Hub in Intel’s offices in Canary Wharf. 

End users, the men and women who work at height, will be able to experience a simulated fall scenario and understand what effect fall protection equipment has and how it can help prevent death or life-changing injuries.

The onus to be able to work safely will lie primarily with those specifying fall protection equipment in 2019, with the provision of a safe working environment, along with the correct PPE and training. 

However, end users must also take their safety responsibilities seriously. As an industry, sending people who work at height safely home to their families at the end of each day must be a priority.

From an MSA point of view, over the next 12 months we will continue to innovate and develop great fall protection systems. 

We will invest in our business and our products to help make sure that they meet emerging standards. And, as always, we will encourage the industry as a whole to keep moving to ensure user safety is paramount.

2019 looks set to be an exciting year. Let’s hope the statistics speak for themselves 12 months on.