Safe Work Australia identifies working at height as one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries in Australia.
Falls account for a combined 30 per cent of fatalities in the building construction and construction services industries between 2007 and 2016 alone. Among the most common causes of fatalities are falls from ladders and roofs, but incidents happen in virtually any industrial setting if companies fail to properly assess the risks and plan accordingly.
One of the biggest influences on the way employees behave when they work at height is the cultural approach to safety cultivated within a company. Many organisations are compliance-driven.
Managers ensure workers have the correct equipment and sometimes will provide them with basic training but ongoing safety training is often not a priority. “They believe that they have provided the minimum that is required and if something goes wrong, it is the employees’ responsibility,’ said Nandha Govindaraj, Senior Product Manager – Fall Protection, Honeywell Industrial Safety. “The thinking behind this is: the worker has received the equipment and they should know how to use it correctly.”
Other organisations are more progressive and in understanding the importance of establishing and maintaining a safe workplace, actively seek to reduce risks, albeit in the short-to-medium term.
Driven by KPIs, these companies are serious about training their employees. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is frequently inspected and safety managers attend the site to monitor workers and ensure correct usage.
However, the ideal businesses are those where employers have prioritised safety education and training to instill a strong safety culture that empowers workers to make safer choices for themselves. These organisations take a long-term approach knowing that good safety management is a support to business, rather than a hindrance. Not only does it serve to protect against fatalities and serious claims, but it also works to attract the best in skilled labour. In industries, like mining and utilities, where competition for skilled labour is fierce, if a business can demonstrate it cares about the health, safety and wellbeing of its workers, this has a positive impact on staff retention and overall quality of work.
Another approach to enhancing safety is to develop tailor-made solutions to improve working at height. For example, although using fall protection when working at height is mandatory, anchoring tools used at height is often overlooked. Falling objects injure on average 15 workers per day, but this can easily be reduced through the introduction of tool lanyards designed to hold considerable weight.
Regular checks of equipment for wear and tear can also help save lives. A major challenge faced by manufacturers is how best to assess the ageing of materials used in products, like lanyards and harnesses. “Every manufacturer will state that a harness can be used for 10 years if it is correctly inspected every year. But how can you identify, just through a visual inspection, that the webbing will still be resistant after two or three years if it has been exposed to very harsh conditions?” said Govindaraj.
“One of the main areas the industry is focusing on is the development of an ageing detector that will enable safety managers to say, ‘Okay, we don’t think the resistance of this material will be strong enough if someone falls’.”
Unfortunately, the number of work fatalities attributed to falls from a height has remained consistent throughout the past 14 years in Australia, accounting for the second-most number of deaths across all industries in 2016. This suggests that workplaces still have a considerable way to go where working at height safety is concerned. However, with consistent ongoing assessment of equipment and business safety practices, and making sure that the PPE used are compliant with the latest risk analysis, companies can ensure that they are well positioned to reduce incidents.
[colored_box color=”yellow”]For more information about Honeywell Industrial Safety, its products and services, visit the website at www.honeywellsafety.com[/colored_box]