6. Workplace hazards and risk controls

Working environment

Welfare and hygiene

People cannot remain healthy at work if their basic welfare needs are not catered for. This includes the following:

  • Toilets;
  • Facilities to wash (including showers where necessary);
  • Drinking water supply;
  • Places to eat;
  • Places to change and store clothes (if work clothes are required);
  • Rest facilities for pregnant women (i.e. reasonably practicable).

It is important to recognise that people eating with dirty hands can result in them ingesting hazardous materials. Also, that dirty clothes can mean people taking hazardous materials into their car and possibly home to their family.

Facilities have to be kept clean, in good condition and supplied with materials (e.g. toilet paper, soap). Also, rooms need to be well ventilated and at a reasonable temperature (not too hot or cold).

These requirements are all covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Reference – Approved Code of Practice L24 ‘Workplace health, safety and welfare. Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (as amended by the Quarries Miscellaneous Health and Safety Provisions Regulations 1995)’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l24.pdf

A safe place to work

The following fall into the category of general safety:

  • Lighting must be sufficient for people to work safely;
  • People need enough space. As a minimum there should be 11m3 per person (with any height above 3m being considered as 3m for this calculation);
  • Floors and traffic routes must be sound and strong enough. They must not have holes, not be slippery or obstructed;
  • Handrails must be provided for stairways;
  • Clear/glass doors must be arranged so people are not liable to walk into them, and they need to be protected against breaking;
  • It must be possible to clean windows safely;
  • Doors that swing both ways must allow people to see through so people behind them are not hurt;
  • Escalators and moving walkways must be of safe design and condition, and have emergency stop buttons.

Reference – ‘Workplace health, safety and welfare – a short guide for managers’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg244.pdf

Violence at work

The potential for violence at work is a risk that needs to be managed. There are two sources of violence that need to be considered, employees attacking each other and members of the public attacking employees.  People working in health sectors, education, handling cash (retail outlets and cash deliveries) and people in positions of authority (e.g. police) are most at risk, especially if working alone.

Whilst violence is largely unpredictable, there are certain factors that make it more likely. They include:

  • The incentive for violence (e.g. perception that large amounts of money or drugs can be obtained);
  • The perception of the likelihood of getting caught;
  • The potential for conflict (e.g. situations where people may disagree with what is happening, such as when being arrested);
  • Likelihood that people are drunk or have taken drugs.

The job and working environment need to be designed to minimise the opportunities and incentives for violence. Employees who are at risk need to be trained to deal with it, including recognising warning signs and taking appropriate action. Arrangements need to be made to summon help when required and to increase deterrents (e.g. CCTV). Violent incidents should be recorded and investigated in a similar way to accidents, in order to identify trends.

Reference – ‘Violence at work – a guide for employers’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg69.pdf

Substance misuse at work

People under the influence of drugs and alcohol can be a hazard to themselves and others. Organisations need to have rules in place that clearly state expectations that people will only turn up for work when they are in a fit state to do so safely and will not consume whilst at work. Controls need to apply to prescription and over-the-counter medicines in addition to illegal drugs.

Safety movement of people in the workplace

The ways people can be harmed when walking around a site or building include:

  • Slips and trips (i.e. falling at same level);
  • Falling from height or into holes;
  • Walking into objects;
  • Being hit by moving objects including vehicles;
  • Being exposed to hazards in the areas they walk through including radiation, noise, chemicals.

Pedestrian risk factors

The following can have an impact on the likelihood of someone being harmed:

  • Control of hazards;
  • Weather;
  • Quality of walkways, stairs etc.
  • Persons knowledge of the premises;
  • Barriers and warnings.

Controlling risks to pedestrians

Premises need to be well designed and maintained to minimise the likelihood of slips and trips. In addition measures taken to control hazards should protect people walking through or past the area where the hazard is present. Areas where people are generally safe should be identified and there should be means of stopping people entering other areas without suitable precautions. The effort put into preventing access to hazardous areas should be based on risk, and may involve signs, training (e.g. site induction) and physical barriers that may need to be kept locked.

Work at height

People falling from height are at risk of injury. Even falls from low heights can cause serious injury, although the distance fallen is clearly a factor in the actual consequences.

Planning work at height

Before carrying out work at height the first question must always be whether it can be avoided. If not, it is important that the work is planned properly and the risks assessed. Good organisation and competent people are required.

Planning the work should include the following:

  • Selection of the correct method of access (e.g. ladder, scaffold tower, scaffolding, mobile elevating work platform (MEWP));
  • Measures to prevent falls (e.g. guardrails);
  • Mitigation that reduces distance fallen or impact for anyone who may fall (e.g. nets and airbags);
  • Personal mitigation that an individual can use (e.g. line and harness or fall arrestor).

Using ladders when working at height

Some people mistakenly believe that ladders and step-ladders are banned under health and safety regulations. This is not the case. However, it is important to recognise that people die every year falling from ladders, and so their use needs to be controlled.

  • Ladders and step-ladders can be used if after assessing the risks the use of more suitable work equipment is not justified because of the low risk and short duration;
  • Short duration is taken to be less than 30 minutes;
  • They should only be used for light work (less than 10kg);
  • Ladders can also be used for low risk work where there are features on the site that mean a ladder must be used.

Precautions for using ladders include:

  • Ladder angle should be no more than 75o (1 unit of distance out for every 4 units up);
  • Always grip the ladder when climbing;
  • Do not overreach;
  • Do not work off the top three rungs – this provides a handhold;
  • Carry out daily pre-use checks;
  • Ensure there is space to fully open the ladder;
  • Use any locking devices;
  • Only use a ladder on firm and level ground;
  • Make sure floors are clean and not slippery.

Additional precautions for using step ladders include:

  • Do not work off the top two steps unless you have a safe handhold on the steps;
  • Avoid side-on working;
  • Do not overreach.

Reference – ‘Top tips for ladder and stepladder safety’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg455.htm

Using mobile towers when working from height

Mobile access towers come in sections that are fitted together to create a platform for working at height. They can be very useful, avoiding the need for scaffolding, but have their limitations. They are usually quite light-weight, and so prone to toppling over. Also, they may not be particularly strong.

Manufacturers of towers have a duty to provide the information necessary to use them safely. This includes how they fit together, maximum height, and use of stabilisers. Clearly towers should only be used in accordance with these instructions.

Other points to note include:

  • Only erect on firm, level ground;
  • Beware of overhead cables;
  • Protect against vehicle impact;
  • Do not put on blocks or bricks;
  • Make sure casters (wheels) are locked when the tower is being built or is in use;
  • Do not attach any sheeting, unless the tower is designed for that use (wind can blow tower over);
  • Only hoist material in accordance with the tower’s design;
  • Ensure there is a safe way to get to the top. Some towers are designed to be climbed, others have ladders built in;
  • Never use a tower as a support for ladders, trestles or other access equipment;
  • Do not use in weather conditions likely to make the tower unstable (wind, rain affecting ground);
  • Beware of overhead cables when moving the tower – reduce height to below 4 metres;
  • Do not use vehicles to move towers.

Using scaffolding when working from height

Scaffolding provides a means of working at height. However, erecting scaffolding can be hazardous in its own right, and the safety of the people using it depends on how it is designed, erected and maintained. There are codes of practice that cover scaffolding, including use of fall arrest equipment whilst it is being erected or altered.

Key requirements for safe use of scaffolding include:

  • It must only be erected or modified by competent people;
  • It must be designed for the intended use by competent people;
  • Handling various components (poles etc.) can cause hazard due to weight, dropped items or knocking people over;
  • Scaffolds must be inspected by a competent person before first use, after modification, after an event that may have affected its integrity (e.g. adverse weather) and at 7 day intervals;
  • Scaffolding must be erected on firm, level ground or foundations (beware of hidden voids, drains etc.);
  • Beware of overhead cables;
  • Protect against vehicle impact;
  • If intended to take loads, it must be designed and constructed accordingly;
  • If intended to be sheeted, it must be designed and constructed to withstand wind load;
  • Working platforms must be properly supported and large enough for people to work (minimum width 600mm);
  • Guardrails should be provided at working platforms to prevent people falling (approximately 1m high, with intermediate guard rails provided so gaps are less than 470mm);
  • Toe boards should be provided on working platforms to prevent materials falling (minimum height 150 mm);
  • Safe ladder or other access must be provided;
  • Arrangements need to be made for raising and lowering of materials;
  • Make sure ends and other parts are easy to see so people do not walk into them;
  • Mark incomplete sections so that they are not used;
  • Prevent unauthorised access by removing ladders or covering rungs.

For stability, the scaffold should usually be tied in to the structure being built or worked on. There are different types of tie:

  • Through tie – a scaffold pole is extended through an opening (e.g. window) and then arrangements are made so that pressure is applied to the wall opposite to the scaffolding (i.e. on the inside of the building if the scaffold in on the outside);
  • Reveal tie – again in an opening, but a pole is wedged horizontally into the opening and screw devices used to tighten the gap so that friction is used stop the pole moving;
  • Box tie – attached around a pillar or similar structure;
  • Eye bolts – screwed into the wall onto which scaffold is attached;
  • Putlog – poles with flattened ends which are inserted into gaps between brick courses.

Where ties are not possible, angled supports can be used to support the scaffold.

Reference – ‘Scaffold checklist’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/safetytopics/scaffoldinginfo.htm

Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWP)

The term MEWP applies to a number of different types of equipment including vehicle mounted articulated and telescopic booms, self-propelled articulated and telescopic booms, trailer mounted articulated and telescopic booms and scissor lifts. Some of these are commonly known as ‘cherry pickers.’

Potential problems with MEWPs include:

  • Collapsing;
  • Overturning;
  • Persons being thrown from the carrier during manoeuvres;
  • Carrier being trapped against fixed structures;
  • People being crushed by them.

The risk of falling from a MEWP is increased by a sudden movement caused by an impact, ground movement, or failure of a stability critical part of the MEWP. Some form of lanyard or other protection can prevent these events causing injury.

Issues to consider are really a combination of access to height, vehicle use, lifting operation and use of work equipment. In particular;

  • Stability and slope of ground;
  • Hidden underground voids;
  • Overhead cables;
  • Vehicle collision;
  • Engine acting as ignition source;
  • Engine fumes creating a hazard (e.g. confined space);
  • Formal inspection of equipment;
  • User checks.

The correct equipment needs to be selected and operators must be competent.

Reference – ‘The selection and management of mobile elevating work platforms’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/geis6.htm

Rope access

Rope access is a method of working at height, developed from techniques used in climbing and caving. Typical jobs carried out using rope access include inspection and testing, maintenance, painting, cleaning structures and windows. It can be hazardous, so people are have to be competent and apply rigorous safety precautions, including:

  • Use of two attachments, each having an independent anchorage point;
  • When supported by ropes, fail-safe descent mechanism must be used;
  • All secondary tools and equipment (e.g. drills, sealant, etc.) must be attached by lanyards to worker’s harness;
  • A minimum of two technicians are required for any job;
  • Teams must be trained in rescue procedures;
  • All equipment must be regularly inspected and maintained.

Further information is available from the International Rope Access Trade Associate (IRATA) at http://www.irata.org

Work at Height regulations 2005

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. There is no minimum height specified (in the past people have referred to the 2 metre rule, but this no longer applies).

Duties are placed on employers, the self-employed, and any person that controls the work of others (for example facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height). They include:

  • Avoid work at height wherever possible;
  • Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where working at height cannot be avoided;
  • Use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur where the risk of fall cannot be avoided.

Specific issues covered by the regulations include:

  • All work at height must be properly planned and organised;
  • Planning for work at height must take account of weather conditions that could endanger health and safety;
  • Those involved in work at height must be trained and competent;
  • The place where work at height is done must be safe;
  • Equipment for work at height must be appropriately inspected;
  • The risks from fragile surfaces must be properly controlled;
  • The risks from falling objects must be properly controlled.

The regulations were amended in April 2007 to apply to those who work at height providing instruction or leadership to one or more people engaged in caving or climbing by way of sport, recreation, team building or similar activities in Great Britain.

Reference – ‘The Work at Height Regulations 2005 – a brief guide’ available free at www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg401.pdf

Hazards and control measures for works of a temporary nature

Management of change is critical for health and safety. This includes temporary changes that occur due to activities such as maintenance, renovation, demolition and excavations. It is important that the knock-on effects of temporary changes are properly understood and assessed; and that the findings are communicated to the people who may be affected. It should be recognised that risks can occur during transition to the temporary state and when returning to normal.

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