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Why building owners should invest in height safety

When it comes to investment in rooftop safety, out of sight can sometimes mean out of mind. I’ve heard many Facilities Managers say they find it difficult getting approval for new height safety measures, with other more visible HSE concerns tending to take priority. But there’s a strong business case to be made to building owners. A case that speaks their language in terms of clear financial, compliance and reputational benefits.

1. It’s more cost-effective to install permanent height safety solutions than incur the cumulative cost of providing temporary access equipment.
Billions of pounds are spent maintaining and repairing the UK’s buildings each year. Even if only a small proportion of this maintenance is carried out at height, costs for rooftop work run into tens of millions of pounds. Most UK businesses are bearing some of this cost unnecessarily.

When considered over the long-term, the potential cumulative saving can be huge.

If building owners invest in permanent safe access equipment (e.g. permanent walkways and ladders), they negate the need for costly ad hoc expenditure on temporary height safety solutions (e.g. scissor lifts), requiring specially trained operators, over the lifetime of the building.

2. Investment in height safety provision minimises the growing risk of fines and civil lawsuits for companies and their Directors.
Increasingly, this is a point that’s getting people to sit up and listen.

In 2016/2017 there were 5,186 reported falls from height in the UK. Tragically, 25 of these cases were fatalities.

Fatalities and serious injuries caused by falls from height are one of the most frequently reported health and safety prosecutions.

The HSE is now being more vigilant and active in prosecuting companies that fall short of standards. Last year, the HSE handed out fines totalling £69.9 million, a dramatic increase on the previous year.

There is also an increasing commitment by the HSE to prosecute the most senior individuals within a business. Indeed, the number of company directors and managers prosecuted by the HSE in the year to March 2016 more than trebled compared to the previous year. A closely implicated Director could face charges that carry a possible two-year jail term.

3. Socially responsible businesses take height safety seriously.
Beyond the financial implications, good employers recognise that it is ethically wrong to expose staff and others to unacceptable risks. Well-intentioned employers will invest in adequate height safety solutions as part of a joined-up approach to effective risk management, and therefore good corporate social responsibility practice.

4. Investing in permanent height safety solutions helps companies meet their statutory obligations.
There’s a long list of regulations that place onerous duties on employers, and those who control any work at height activity, including Facilities Managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height.

The regulations include requirements for means of access for work at height, collective fall prevention (e.g. guardrails and working platforms), collective fall arrest (e.g. nets, airbags etc.), personal fall protection (e.g. work restraints, fall arrest and rope access) and ladders. Investing in permanent height safety solutions can therefore help companies meet their statutory obligations.

According to a survey carried out by Aviva in 2011, 54% of employers say they would invest more in health and safety if they could see a tangible return on investment.

Hopefully, the four points above go some way in equipping Facilities Managers to convince their employers of the benefits to be expected from investing in proper height safety solutions. And with a growing amount of equipment and plant on roofs, the frequency of work at height is increasing. This suggests the business case for Facilities Managers will only get stronger.

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