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Height Safety a Top Priority

Published: 01st Sep 2012 in OSA Magazine

Ninety five percent of accidents in industry happen due to unsafe situations. Due to all manner of unsafe situations, accidents occur in both professional and non-professional situations, and working at height is one of the leading causes of injury or, at worst, fatality.

In fact, falls from height are a major cause of injuries worldwide.

Fall injuries, deaths and major fractures are the most common of workplace hazards caused by working at height. Such accidents on the job are expensive for employers, but painful for employees, or, if a fatality results, a tragedy for entire families.

There are so many situations that can cause such incidents. Most of working at height related accidents can be prevented by eliminating workplace hazards, and improving your safety culture, or through people taking the proper action to work safely after being made fully aware of hazards through thorough training.

Falls from height are responsible for many serious and fatal injuries every year. If a person falls from a height above two metres, the likelihood is that they will sustain serious injury.

Anticipating hazards

Many work activities involve working at height. Working from ladders, scaffolds and platforms are obvious examples, but there are many more activities where people are required to work at height.
working at height
In general, the definition of a fall from height could be as simple as a momentary lapse of in attention, thinking about something else or being distracted by another immediate activity. This could end in a tragic incident.

If, in such situation, proper PPE is not used, the seriousness of that incident will of course increase, and lead to a serious injury or fatality.

Statistics show such incidents happen for a number of reasons. All too frequently, however, a recent survey found that those managers who were interviewed had jumped to conclusions about how and why falls happened, rather than really looking for the true cause.

Alternatively, they decided that the incident was just ‘one of those things’ and could do nothing about it.

According to a working at heights accidents’ survey, generally falls from height occur in the following contexts:
• Greenfield construction sites or expansions
• Plant side during maintenance or modifications
• High rise buildings

Particular areas for concern

1. Excavations
If an employee is working at the edge of an excavation 1.8 metres or more deep, he should be protected from falling by guardrail systems, fences, barricades or covers. Also, if walkways are needed for employees to cross over excavations, consider guardrails.

2. Hoist areas
Each employee in a hoist area should be protected by guardrail systems or personal fall arrest systems. If parts of a guardrail system need to be removed to facilitate hoisting operations, as during the landing of materials, and a worker must lean through the access opening or out over the edge of the access opening to receive or guide equipment and materials, that employee should be protected by a personal fall arrest system.

3. Holes
If there are holes – including skylights – on a worksite, personal fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems should be erected.

4. Overhand bricklaying and related work
Use guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems, for employees engaged in this kind of work; alternatively, ensure shall a controlled access zone is created.

5. Ramps, runways and other walkways
Use guardrail systems for employees using ramps, runways and other walkways that are 1.8 metres or more high.

6. Low-slope roofs
If employees are engaged in roofing activities on low-slope roofs with unprotected sides and edges of 1.8 metres or more, use guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems or a combination of a warning line system and guardrail system, warning line system and safety net system, warning line system and personal fall arrest system, or warning line system and safety monitoring system. On roofs of 15.24 metres or less in width, the use of a safety monitoring system without a warning line system is permitted.

7. Steep roofs
If the unprotected sides of a steep roof are 1.8 metres or more above lower levels, use guardrail systems with toeboards, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.

8. Wall openings
Each employee working on, at, above, or near wall openings – including those with chutes attached – where the outside bottom edge of the wall opening is 1.8 metres or more above lower levels, and the inside bottom edge of the wall opening is less than one metre above the walking/working surface, should be protected either with a guardrail system, a safety net system, or a personal fall arrest system.

Planning ahead

When we wish to improve safety culture and reduce incidents related to working at height in any of the above situations, we should first consider the points below:
• Do a hazard Identification and a risk assessment for work at height activities, and make sure all work at height is planned, organised and carried out by competent persons
• Manage risks related to work at height as found in above steps - take steps to avoid, prevent or reduce risks
• It is important to choose the right work equipment and select collective measures to prevent falls, such as guardrails and working platforms
• Eliminate, reduce or control the risks by making changes to protect people
• Educate your workforce about hazards, train on mass basis
• Assign responsibilities, date, and timeline against actions to be taken to eliminate, reduce or control the risks
• Encourage a culture of reporting hazard concerns and incidents
• Monitor, review and provide feedback to your whole team and management involved in the hazard identification and risk assessment process

Employers have numerous responsibilities to safeguard their employees from falls from height, and a duty of care, which means they are responsible for providing:
• A safe work environment
• Safe systems of work
• Safe plant and substances
• Training, supervision and information
• Welfare facilities such as first aid, amenities

Employees are responsible for:
• Protecting their own health and safety
• Avoiding adversely affecting the health and safety of others
• Using equipment provided to protect their health and safety
• Obeying their employer’s health and safety instructions
• Complying with occupational health and safety policies

Costly effects of accidents

Following an incident, the costs to both worker and employer can be huge. A fall may result in more serious secondary outcomes, including disabling injuries and even fatality, with the potential consequences including:
• Lost wages
• Pain
• Disability
• Depression
• Fatality
• Productivity and business loss
• Insurance costs
• Costs of replacing worker

Other than the above losses, there are also various types of injuries that can be caused by a Slip, Trip and Fall accident, such as sprains and strains, bruises or fractures.

Best practise to avoid incidents

The analysis of accidents results in a special main emphasis on accidents with falls. A large number of such accidents are caused by employees not using certified equipment or PPE such as scaffolds, safety belts and full body harnesses. The causes are varied.
working at height
The following regulatory best practises should be optimised at each workplace before starting work at height:
• All work at height is properly planned and hence organised
• Equipment for work at height is available, properly inspected and maintained
• Those involved in work at height are certified and competent as applicable per local regulations
• The hazard identification and risk assessment on the specific activity has been performed

Accidents can be avoided by taking the following measures:
• Use certified scaffolds and equipment
• Do not use platforms or ladders on snowy, icy or rainy days
• Reduce wet or slippery surfaces
• Always use installed light sources that provide sufficient light for your tasks
• Avoid creating obstacles
• Take your time and pay attention to where you are going and what you are doing and what lies ahead
• Expect the unexpected
• Take responsibility for fixing, removing, or avoiding hazards in your path
• Watch out for uneven surfaces
• Don’t carry loads you can’t see over

Best practise for equipment use

1. Ladders:
• Erected at correct angle
• Secured at top or footed properly
• Positioned properly to avoid overreaching
• Sufficiently protected at the base of any ladder or access equipment to prevent pedestrians or vehicles bumping into them

2. Access equipment
• Hired equipment must be fit for the purpose and hire contractors must be qualified
• All erecting and access equipment should be properly maintained and regularly inspected
• Erecting and using access equipment personnel must be competent to do so, and training should be provided where necessary

3. Mobile or fixed elevated platforms
• Use the platform only on level, firm ground
• Work with a trained operator at ground level
• Safety harnesses must be worn while on the platform
• Keep the platform within safe working limits and radius, taking account of wind speeds

4. Safety lines, safety belts, full body harnesses
A fall arrest system is designed to arrest the fall of a person and should be considered a last choice. Generally speaking:
• A fall arrest harness is an assembly of interconnected shoulder and leg straps, with or without a body
• Belt designed to spread the load over the body and to prevent the wearer from falling out of the assembly
• A lanyard is a line used, usually as part of a lanyard assembly, to connect a fall arrest harness to an anchorage point or static line
• A lanyard assembly consists of a lanyard and a personal energy absorber
• The lanyard assembly should be as short as practicable and the working slack length not more than two metres under a free fall condition

Be proactive - be safe

Behavioural safety training initiatives may be used to target issues such as the improved working at height, or the wearing of appropriate PPE. Setting up a behavioural safety campaign helps measure the background level of housekeeping, for example, which is important to maintain to high standards on construction sites where falls can so easily happen. Subsequent levels can then be measured against this benchmark.

The main barrier to safe practise is often seen by managers as financial. They perceive an economic cost and a drain on the bottom line and, in addition, have to demonstrate to the budget holders as well the cost savings if they were to be seen to be more proactive - a return on investment.

The influence of management on safety culture and safety performance must be one of your key objectives. Supervisory staff that demonstrate enthusiasm for, and take part in safety practise will be more likely to help nurture a positive safety culture.

The involvement of top management in safety matters also appears to be crucial, such that employees are in no doubt that preventing slips, trips and falls is just as important - if not more - as other criteria such as profit and production targets.


Working at height is a dangerous workplace activity and falls from height can cause severe injuries. The causes cannot be limited to those mentioned above, although these do present an overview.

The suggestions provided above to prevent incidents should also not be limited. There are many ways in which the workplace equipment design and environment can cause falls on the same level hazards, and this is also true for falls from height.

There is plenty of scope for designing and maintaining the workplace equipment in a way that will eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the chances of someone falling due to working at height.

All managers and supervisors should be aware of their accountability for hazards.

Remember, safety is the business of mind over matter – we must mind and it will matter. 

Published: 01st Sep 2012 in OSA Magazine


Sanjeev Paruthi

Mr Sanjeev Paruthi is a postgraduate Chemical Engineer from Punjab University Chandigarh (India), and is presently associated with a multinational EPC Company as its HSE and Process Safety Engineer at Gurgaon-India.

His experience of six years comprises of working with Hindustan Zinc Limited, Tata Coffee Limited and with leading consulting and Training Company in the domain of Process Safety/Risk Management. He also holds PG Diploma in Business Management from ICFAI. He is also pursuing an Advance Diploma in Industrial Fire Safety Management from Mohali Punjab, India.

Mr Paruthi has wide range of consulting and training experience for working with Chemical, Fine Chemical, Refinery, Petrochemical Storage Installations, paints and allied chemical industries. He has also designed Fire Prevention and Detection systems for Refinery in his current company. He has led various HAZOP and HAZID sessions and prepared various HSE documents under a refinery project.

Mr Paruthi has also conducted Operational Process Safety Studies.

His technical expertise is in the following domain areas:
• Quantitative Risk Assessment, HAZOP Studies, Process Hazard Analysis
• Fire Risk Assessment
• Process Safety Training and Development
• Process Safety Management Studies and Audits
• SIL Studies
• Hazardous Area Classification
• Static Hazards Evaluation
• Lockout Tagout
• Chemical Handling Safety (Gas/Vapour/Dust)

Sanjeev Paruthi




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