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Falls from height – 'Shattered Lives'

Gravity can be a hard master, whether you're up a ladder, on the roof of a building or anywhere else off the ground. In fact, 3750 serious injuries are caused by falls each year in British industry, more than any other type of accident. Falls are also among the biggest workplace killers, accounting for about 45 deaths each year.

Agricultural work carries an above-average risk of falling accidents. Farming, forestry and horticulture employ about 1% of the national workforce but continue to account for more than 13% of the fatal falls, which emphasises that this must remain high on the list of farming risks to be managed.

Our current campaign is called Shattered Lives. This is aimed at reducing slip, trip and falls injuries.

You don't have to be very high to suffer a serious fall. Recent case histories include at least one fatality and numerous injuries due to falls from 2m or less, and the long list of potential risk situations includes climbing on machines to carry out repairs and standing on a step ladder to check the fuel level in the diesel storage tank.

Falling from ground level into a hole can also cause serious injury and is covered in the campaign.

We are also trying to raise awareness and to reduce falls from vehicles. There are significant numbers of accidents in the agricultural industry that could be prevented if simple control measures were adopted.

There are three key where most fall incidents happen:

If you need to work at height, for example to clean a combine or change cab filters, use suitable access equipment.

Slips/trips mounting tractors or mobile machines - always use the steps and handholds provided and face inwards so that you can maintain a good grip. Keep cab steps well maintained and never jump down from a tractor cab or machine - you don't have to fall far to fall hard!

Why agriculture has a poor falls record

Making the job safer

Planning, including a risk assessment, should be an essential part of the preparation for jobs that involve working at height, and this has high priority in the Work at Height regulations.

They apply to employees, employers and the self-employed and specify that anyone doing jobs involving the risk of a fall must be competent to do that kind of work and must use suitable equipment that is properly maintained and inspected.

Measures are also needed to avoid injuries by objects falling from where someone is working. Areas where this may be a risk must be clearly identified and have restricted access.

Ladders

Jobs that involve climbing a ladder or working on a roof are at the top of the danger list. Before using a ladder always question whether safer access equipment could not be used instead.

If climbing a ladder is the best option the risk assessment should include checking that it is in good condition and that there is a firm, level base to support it. In some situations it is possible to secure the ladder by roping it to a suitable support.

Ladders are acceptable for jobs that can be done quickly and with a low level of risk, but the risks increase significantly when using a ladder for long periods, moving it frequently or climbing repeatedly to carry tools or work materials.

The alternatives to using a ladder for more hazardous projects include a suitable work platform or basket on a telehandler boom. For planned or regular work at height only fully integrated and properly constructed working platforms should be used.
Another option is to hire a self-propelled scissor-lift platform providing enough lift height for most on-farm building maintenance jobs. Operator training is required for using both a telehandler work platform and the scissor-lift type.

Roofs

Working on roofs involves several different falling risks. They include a fall climbing to or from the roof, falling through a roof light, treading on a weak part of the roof and falling off the edge. Other roofing hazards include strong winds and other adverse weather conditions, which should always be avoided.

The risk of serious injury is increased because there is usually a solid floor below, and there are also special problems on buildings with sloping or curved roofs. The initial assessment should include investigating whether the work could be done from the underside of the roof instead of the top, but if working on the roof is unavoidable, choose the safest option for gaining access and for lifting the work materials.

Evidence from case histories shows that some roof falls result from inadequate support platforms. Each platform section should be at least 60cm wide and long enough to span at least three purlins, and there should be enough platform sections to provide a continuous walkway - gaps between sections are dangerous. Bales stacked almost to roof height under the work area reduce the risk of injuries if there is a fall, while a sturdy barrier at least 910mm high will reduce the risk of falling over the edge.

Contractors

Even when a specialist contractor is called in to do risky jobs such as roof repairs, the farmer still has safety obligations. These include drawing the contractor's attention to any factors that could affect safety, such as tractor and other vehicle movements near the work area and the location of overhead wires.

Complying with the regulations will mean more time needed for planning and preparing many jobs on the farm, and special access equipment costs more to buy or hire than using a ladder. This could make ignoring the regulations seem a tempting option - at least until things go wrong.

Unfortunately serious accidents caused by falls happen on hundreds of farms each year and even the non-fatal falls can be disastrous - a broken leg may cause chaos if it stops someone doing the milking or driving a tractor for a few weeks.

A hired self-propelled platform provides enough height for most on-farm building maintenance jobs.

The alternatives to using a ladder for more hazardous projects include a suitable work platform or basket on a telehandler boom.

2010-07-29