Working at Height - Part 1

By HSE East Africa | Wednesday Aug 30, 2017

On 24th March, 2017, a construction supervisor working at a church in Nairobi died after he fell from the third floor of the church which was under construction at the time.

This worker joins a growing list of persons killed or injured while working at height, with most accidents happening in the construction industry. According to a research published in the American Journal of Civil Engineering in August 2016, about 65% of all construction site injuries in Nairobi are as a result of workers falling from heights or being hit by falling objects.

Work at height can be defined as work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. This applies where one:

  • works above ground/floor level
  • could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or
  • could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground

Currently, Kenya does not have specific regulations governing working at height. Article 77(7) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 2007 however provides that;

"Where any person is to work at a place from where he is liable to fall a distance of more than three metres, then, unless the place is one which affords secure foothold and, where necessary, secure handhold, means shall be provided, so far as is reasonably practicable, by fencing or otherwise for ensuring his safety."

The worrying statistics highlighted above could be an indicator that more specific guidelines may be required to enhance safety of employees working at height. In the meantime, by borrowing from best practices in other countries could help reduce accidents associated with height especially with the recent boom in the construction industry.

ILO Code of Practice

The International Labour Organization's (ILO) Safety and health in Construction code of practice published in 1992 offers practical guidance on a legal, administrative, technical and educational framework for safety and health in construction with a view to:

  • preventing accidents and diseases and harmful effects on the health of workers arising from employment in construction;
  • ensuring appropriate design and implementation of construction projects;
  • Providing means of analysing from the point of view of safety, health and working conditions, construction processes, activities, technologies and operations, and of taking appropriate measures of planning, control and enforcement.

A training manual titled Safety, health and welfare on construction sites was also published in 1992 and is intended to be complementary to the ILO code of practice. The manual contains practical recommendations for the use of all those, both in the public and private sectors, who have responsibility for safety and health in construction. The contents are also of direct concern to employers and management on whom many of the duties and responsibilities fall for creating safe and healthy working conditions.

These ILO documents offer guidelines regarding safe working at height including safe use of ladders and proper scaffolding practices. The training manual also provides guidelines for specific hazardous processes such as roof work, steel erection and work over water that may involve working at height.

The UK Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR) aim to prevent death and injury caused by a fall from height. The regulations were made under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (1974 c37) and apply to employers within Great Britain and beyond as provided for in Order 2013v6 under the same Act. They require employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This includes using the right type of equipment for working at height.

The British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also published a guide to assist compliance with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR). According to the guide, the following steps could help reduce accidents:

  • avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so;
  • where work at height cannot be avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment;
  • minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated.

As part of enhance safe working at height, one would need to make sure that:

  • all work at height is properly planned and organised
  • those involved in work at height are competent
  • the risks from work at height are assessed, and appropriate work equipment is selected and used
  • the risks of working on or near fragile surfaces are properly managed
  • the equipment used for work at height is properly inspected and maintained

These critical aspects of safe working at height will be addressed in more detail in subsequent articles in this Working at Height Series.

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