Working at height is something that will be required during the build, running and break down of most events. However, the definition of what ‘working at height’ actually is should serve as a reminder to organisers of the important role played by event safety consultants.
Chris Hannam from safety consultants Stagesafe says that some of the myths surrounding health & safety are absurd, often sensationalised by the media and driven not by the HSE but by insurance companies. He says that it’s important not to be mis-lead by incorrect health & safety myths, but instead to keep things simple and read the correct guidance. In his column, Chris provides the essential guidance for event professional when working at height.
Defining ‘Working at Height’
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 applies to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. They place duties on employers, the self-employed, and any person who controls the work of others (e.g. production managers, promoters and event organisers who may contract others to work at height) to the extent they control the work.
Fall protection starts with fall prevention. The Regulations set out a simple hierarchy for managing and selecting equipment for work at height.
a) Avoid work at height where possible.
b) Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid working at height.
c) Where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.
Putting it in to Practice
Ideally, any work at height should be accessed by stairways and fixed catwalks with handrails etc. However, apart from some purpose built venues and arenas we don’t often have such luxuries.
Item b) on the list covers things like access platforms and towers. These can range from scaffold platforms, including portable aluminium access towers or scaffolds, to the well-known Mobile Elevating Lift Platforms or MEWPS such as cherry pickers, scissor lifts and a whole range of other mobile lift platforms.
If it’s not possible to use one of these systems (usually where space is limited) than the next best solution is rope access. These are very advanced systems of access that offer good safety levels but need considerable amounts of staff training. Apart from a few specialist situations, rope access is not generally considered relevant to our industry.
Getting near the bottom of the list are ladders and steps and at the very bottom, climbing with fall arrest equipment. Fall arrest is at the bottom of our hierarchy because it does not prevent falls only protects in the event of a fall.
Having selected the appropriate equipment from the hierarchy above we must make sure the equipment is safe and, where necessary, has the required certification and records of test and examination in place and available. I am aware of one staging company that buys second hand fall arrest equipment from internet auction sites and issues it to its staff! Fall arrest equipment (like all PPE) should be issued new and never loaned, pooled or shared.
All work at height operations must be properly planned and risk assessed before starting work, weather conditions may form part of the risk assessment.
Finally we need to address ‘the worker’. The regulations state that all those who work at height must be properly trained and ‘competent’ for the work. This will include possessing the appropriate ‘operators ticket’ for operating MEWPS, having IRATA certificates for those involved with rope access and PASMA Certificates for those who use aluminium access towers. Those using ladders and steps must have been given the required training on the correct use of ladders and steps (contrary to the myths, it’s not a ladder climbing course). The training covers the correct transport, storage and erection of ladders, not how to climb them.
Those using fall arrest systems need special training in the use of such equipment and how to carry out user inspections. Many of the access systems mentioned may also require a rescue system to be in place in the event of an operative falling and being suspended in their harness.