Work at height: ladders, MEWPs… and hopefully not standing on flight cases

This week’s blog post is from our Safety Consultant Sam White, talking about one of his (many) fields of expertise: work at height.

Work at height is one of the most high risk activities on an event site and unfortunately results in a huge amount of accidents. These accidents can result in financial loss, damage to the reputation of the companies involved and, above all, can effect the physical and mental health of a human being.

MEWP (mobile elevated working platform) use should be favoured over any climbing or ladder work, if this is reasonably practicable. However MEWP working does not come without risk. MEWP operators should undergo formal training, by an accredited body such as IPAF, before they are allowed to use a machine. There are many different types of accreditation available for MEWPs from IPAF, for the many different types of MEWPs available. Be sure to check that you/your operators IPAF accreditation is suitable for the machine you plan to operate. MEWPs are also required to undergo 6 monthly ‘thorough inspections’ to ensure they are fit for use, so ensure that the machine you plan to use is in-date of its inspection. Daily visual inspections should also be carried out before use.

If the use of a MEWP is not reasonably practicable, there are a few other methods of accessing any works that need to take place at height. One of which is climbing. 

Climbing can be a dangerous form of access, if not managed carefully and safely. Employers should ensure that their employees are trained, competent and fit enough to take on this work. Employees undertaking climbing operations can achieve their qualifications/accreditations from Accrediting bodies such as PLASA who offer a national rigging certificate (NRC). All climbers and riggers should ensure that all equipment used in climbing operations is LOLER tested (within 6 months) but should also be visually inspected before each use.

Ladders can be an effective short-term method of accessing work at height but other, safer methods should be used if reasonably practicable. 

Employees using ladders for work at height should be appropriately trained in safe ladder use. Various companies offer different training courses on ladder use, but an IOSH approved course such as the IHASCO ladder safety training course would be the most appropriate. Ladders should always be fit for the job at hand, and should be tall enough for workers to access the desired area without standing on the top 3 rungs. Ladders should always be placed on level ground, with another employee footing. Ladders should also be subject to a detailed inspection – a formally recorded inspection undertaken at least every 6 months. 

Planning – All work at height should be planned and risk assessed. This can be in the form of a verbal plan made by persons undertaking the work, or preferably a written plan. As a part of the planning process, a rescue plan should be made in case of any accident occurring during work at height, where the operative is unable to get themselves safely to ground level. Rescue plans should not be too ambiguous, and rescue practice drills should be a part of work at height training. In addition the work at height should be risk assessed to ensure all tasks are thought through thoroughly, hazards identified and control measures employed to mitigate the risks.

It goes without saying that work at height should always be supervised to ensure someone can raise the alarm or assist should there be a problem.

Ideally, work at height should be avoided if there is a safer alternative way to carry out the work. The hierarchy of controls should be used to determine the safest, and most reasonably practical method of access for the particular job you are carrying out.

If you’d like to talk to Sam and the team about planning your work at height safely, please do get in touch.