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Working at height: what facilities managers need to know

Facilities Managers have a long list of statutory obligations to ensure height safety in the workplace. Failing to meet these duties can put employees and contractors in harm’s way; in the worst cases leading to serious injury, or even death, to people they have a statutory responsibility to protect.

That in itself is a strong motivation, but there are also significant financial consequences to failing to uphold this duty properly. Falls from height are the most frequently reported health and safety prosecutions. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is also being more proactive in prosecuting companies that fall short of standards. Since the new sentencing guidelines were issued, the total value of HSE fines has risen, with fines totalling £69.9m for the period 2016/17.

Building owners can be prosecuted and fined if they or their contractors are found to be “acting in a way in which an accident could occur.”

The stakes are high then.

Fortunately, though comprehensive, the responsibilities of Facilities Managers for height safety are fairly straightforward to understand and execute.

There are three main sets of legislation that control work at height, and are relevant to Facilities Managers in their roles as duty holders:

Work at Height Regulations 2005

The Work at Height Regulations are the main governing force covering all work at height in the UK, including activity to gain access to a worksite.

The regulations place specific duties on Facilities Managers with any responsibility for work at height – whether by staff or outside contractors. The core principles of the regulations as they relate to Facilities Managers are as follows:

Minimise work at height
Work at height should be minimised. Where such work is unavoidable, it should be carried out in a previously deemed safe place of work, using existing, stable and suitably strong means of access wherever possible.

Plan appropriately
Work should be properly planned and organised, following a risk assessment in accordance with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

Ensure competence
All aspects of the work, including its planning, supervision and assessment, must be undertaken by competent persons.

Provide appropriate equipment
The regulations provide guidance on the hierarchy of protective equipment, and the specifications this equipment should meet. Facilities Managers should prioritise collective protection measures. The regulations also demand the appropriate inspection and maintenance of this equipment.

Manage the risks of fragile surfaces
Suitable protective coverings or barriers to bear any anticipated additional load should be provided. Where that is not possible, the risks of falling through fragile surfaces should be reduced by ensuring awareness among workers, and the provision of prominent signage.

Health & Safety at Work Act 1974

The Act imposes a general duty of care on Facilities Managers, among others, to ensure the safety of workers. It specifies the need for risk management, and the production of appropriate policies, controls and systems (such as permits to work), to govern work at height.

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) 2015

CDM 2015 requires Facilities Managers to manage the health and safety risks around a construction project, and to regularly review this management to ensure it is appropriate.

Making sense of it all

While it may appear that Facilities Managers are subject to a dizzying array of regulations, the actual requirements are fairly straightforward to meet. Many of the procedural ones will be addressed by simply following general Health and Safety best practice – likely to be well-established in any organisation of reasonable size.

The more you understand the differences between permanent and temporary access, passive and active systems, and collective and personal protection, the more you will be able to assess the most appropriate option for your premises. When done properly, this will allow you to address your statutory responsibilities, while also improving the accessibility, and therefore maintainability, of the building; a rare win-win.

If you’d like to learn more about your responsibilities and how to mitigate risks, download our free guide to roof risk management.

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