Accidents at Work: Falls From Height.

Can’t Help Falling - We've all seen action movies and spy dramas where the lead character takes a dramatic dive off a building or bridge, bouncing from roof to roof and tumbling through rubble and wreckage to continue their chase. It makes for high-octane visual entertainment for an audience, but the realities of a fall from height are usually far less elegant and far more life-changing.

In the UK, for the period 2022/23, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported a 5% increase in fatalities resulting from falls in the workplace from the year before. Although falls only make up 8% of non-fatal injuries reported in the workplace, they are the leading cause of fatalities in workplace accidents, with over half of these occurring in the construction industry alone.

How did it happen?

A fall from height may happen in any number of ways from any number of platforms. Often we see claims arising from falls from roofs, ladders, plant/machinery, workplace vehicles and fork lift trucks, scaffolding, and even just some good old-fashioned stairs.

When you’re working at height in the course of your employment, your employer has a duty of care to ensure that you are working as safely as possible. Anyone responsible for another person working at height should be mindful of The Work at Height Regulations 2005, and the protocols it sets out to ensure personal safety when managing the risks involved in this kind of work. An absence of any of these measures could be considered negligence if its presence could have prevented an accident, or at the very least minimised your injuries.

Your fellow employees are also responsible for keeping you safe, and any actions they take in direct contradiction of safety measures could result in an accident. A prank between colleagues is no laughing matter when it results in injuries.

Did it hurt?

The severity of injuries sustained from a fall are dependent upon a number of factors, including how far you have fallen and the surface upon which you have landed. Injuries both with and without PPE may include:

• Fractures
• Head and brain injury
• Spinal injuries – which may result in paralysis
• Nerve damage
• Cuts, lacerations, grazes and bruises
• Fatality

As falls in the workplace usually occur in an active working environment, you are also at risk of injuries like electrocution, chemical and heat burns, as well as crush injuries.

Not quite the James Bond injury-free getaway we’ve come to associate with full-throttle action sequences.

Minimising Risk, Maximising Safety

So how do we reduce the chances of a fall in the workplace? Well, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 your employer must provide you with a safe working environment. Where you are working at height your employer should follow the protocols set out in The Work at Height Regulations 2005, and they must also have Employers’ Liability Insurance (ELI).

To minimise risk for employees working at height the workplace may implement the following safety strategies in line with the aforementioned Act and Regulations:

  • Fully risk-assess the work to be carried out and the location
  • Ensure work is only carried out at height where it cannot reasonably and practicably be carried out otherwise
  • Provide sufficient and appropriate work equipment for preventing a fall
  • Ensure the regular inspection of such equipment
  • Provide clear indication/signage for dangerous areas and areas to be avoided
  • Avoid situations of lone-working
  • Provide sufficient time for the completion of the work

It is then for employees to adhere to these protective measures to ensure their own safety. Yes, whilst your employer has a responsibility to ensure you are following protocols, you can be found liable for your own injuries if you acted contrary to established safety measures.

So, before jumping out of the helicopter onto the rooftop, leaping onward to the rickety old fire escape, jumping from railing to railing before launching onto the roof of a moving vehicle, be sure to ask your employer what PPE and safety measures they’ve taken to ensure that your chances of injury are the only thing taking a fall.

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