Falls from height

Injury statistics

Falls from height in the food and drink industries:

  • are the third highest cause of fatal injury, comprising 20% of fatal accidents
  • result in around 80 major injuries (broken limbs, fractured skulls etc.) each year
  • result in a further 230 over-3-day absence injuries each year
  • can result in serious or even fatal injury even when the fall is less than 2m.

Places from where falls occur and activities being undertaken

In the food and drink industries, analysis of 150 falls from height accidents investigated by HSE over three years indicated the following places from which workers fell:

  • Ladders: 40%
  • Vehicles/FLTs (see below): 17%
  • Machinery/plant: 10%
  • Platforms: 10%
  • Stairs (see below): 8%
  • Roof/false ceiling: 7%
  • Scaffold/gantry: 4%
  • Warehouse racking: 4%

Where workers fell from vehicles, 35% fell from the back of a lorry, 31% fell from FLT forks, 13% from cab steps, 9% from the top of a vehicle and 4% from tanker steps.

Falls on stairs are more frequent than that indicated in the investigated sample above. One third of over-3-day absence injuries caused by falling in the food and drink industries, occur on stairs.

The activity being carried out when a person fell depended on the place from which they fell. For example falls from scaffolds, roofs and ladders were usually associated with maintenance. Where the fall was from machinery or plant cleaning, checking and sampling were the main activities being undertaken.

Managing the risk

In many cases where a person falls from height, safe access has not been provided. All operations requiring work at height require risk assessment and proper management of risks.

Prevent the need for access to height

The need for access to height should be designed out wherever possible. For example:

  • on plant, machinery or road tankers sampling, checking and control operating points can often be located at ground level
  • cleaning of plant might be carried out from ground level using a foam jet cleaner or cleaning might be reduced by better extraction of dust, fume etc.

Ensure safe access

Where regular or frequent access to height is required, permanent safe access arrangements should be installed. For example, on plant or machinery, this might be steps and platform with handrails.

When portable equipment is used for temporary access, it is important that it is not restricted to that which happens to be at hand. For example, hiring a scissor lift or cherry picker might improve safety.

Falls caused by slipping

Many falls from height occur when workers slip (eg from the top of plant or off step rungs). Places where workers will stand should be dry where possible and free from contamination.

Falls on stairs

A third of reported fall accidents occur on stairs. This is often due to the stairs being contaminated with water or food product, or the use of inappropriate footwear.

Falls from FLT forks

Ensure workers do not stand on FLT forks, or pallets mounted on forks, to access heights as this is a regular cause of fatal injury.

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Updated 2023-06-15