Even a Slip Could Result into a Fatal Incident!
In India, construction workers constitute one of the largest categories of workforce in the unorganised sector. Based on the Sample Survey conducted by The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) in 2018, about 49 million workers in India are employed in construction activities which will increase to 72 million workers by 2022. The mere size of the workforce involved in this industry highlights the importance of adhering to safety norms.
During my recent travel from Vapi to Mumbai, I came across several workers working at height or at dangerous locations on various construction projects such as high-rise buildings, commercial complexes, metros, new railway routes, flyovers, shopping malls, bridgesetc. Unfortunately, many of these workers were notwearing any safety harness and were operating from nonstandard scaffolding and therefore even a slip could result into a fatal incident. These workers are usually unskilled and are merely trained to do the monotonous jobs. Their basic need is to earn their livelihood and hence have no option but to do such tasks. In such situations, their physical, mental, social and environmental safety is never taken into consideration. In addition to this, pregnant women, physically unfit old people, young children below 18 years also form a part of such working force, which further aggravates this situation and is a matter of serious concern.
In certain cases, some sub-contractors in the unorganised sector might believe that there could be efficiency loss due to use of safety equipment’s, adopting safety procedures and imparting safety training which involves cost and is time consuming. On the other hand, employees too may bypass the use of safety equipment and safe practices due to inconvenience or over confidence. Hence, in order to address this safety issue, the first and the foremost requirement is to bring about a changein the mindset of both the employees as well as employersto ensure all-round safety.
Tips for working safely at height
Let us start with the basics of ‘Working at Height’ and then further build on what precautions must be taken with respect to safety.
By definition, working at height means any work carried out by personnel above 1.8 meters height from ground/ floor/ platform where permanent platform and railing are not provided. Some common tasks in construction activities involving working at height aremasonry, painting, pipeline replacement, cable installation, welding, carpentry and cutting.
The objective of this article is to bring in awareness to all involved while working at heightso as to eliminate or minimise the risk of potential safety incidents which includes falling from heights, being struck by a falling object, suspension traumaand unstable work platforms or mobile elevated work equipment.
Procedure for working at height:
A systematic procedure to manage the risks of persons falling from one level to another involves:
- Identifying hazards that may cause injury
- Assessing the risks associated with these hazards
- Appropriate Risk Control Measures (considering Hierarchy of Controls)
- Implementing risk control measures
- Reviewing risk control measures to ensure they are effective
Since this subject is vast, this article is split into three parts. The first part (Part 1 of 3) of this article will cover first three procedures mentioned above.
First: Identify fall hazards
Area fall hazards: Key things to look for with regards to identifying fall hazards include:
- The stability, fragility or brittleness
- The potential to slip, for example where surfaces are wet, muddy etc.
- The safe movement of workers where surfaces change
- The strength or capability to support loads
- The slope of work surfaces, for example, where they exceed 7 degrees.
- Levels: where levels change and workers may be exposed to a fall from one level to another
- Structures: the stability of temporary or permanent structures
- The ground: the evenness and stability of the ground for safe support of scaffolding or a work platform
- The working area: whether it is crowded or cluttered
- Entry and exit from the working area
- Edges: protection for open edges of floors, working platforms, walkways, walls or roofs holes, openings or excavations - which will require guarding
- Handgrip: places where handgrip may be lost.
- Gratings: That are not fixed
- Roof Sheets: That are not able to carry loads and/or not fixed
- Work area must be free from clutter (good housekeeping).
Task fall hazards: Tasks that need particular attention are those carried out:
- On any structure or plant being constructed or installed, demolished or dismantled, inspected, tested, repaired or tasks that are carried out on a roof sheeting
- On a potentially unstable surface
- Using equipment to work at the elevated level (for example, when using elevating work platforms or portable ladders)
- On a sloping or slippery surface where it is difficult for people to maintain their balance
- Near an unprotected open edge
- Near a hole, floor opening or pit into which a worker could fall
- Through fragile roofs and fragile roof lights. The following are likely to be fragile:
- Roof lights;
- Liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs;
- Non-reinforced fibre cement sheets;
- Corroded metal sheets;
- Glass (including wired glass);
- Rotted chipboard;
- Slates and tiles.
Second: Risk Assessment
A Risk Assessment must be conducted before the commencement of work at heights in order to determine the risks arising from fall hazards. Risk assessments shall be carried out through Pre-Task Analysis. Based on risk assessment appropriate measures to be taken. In addition to this, a Last-Minute Risk Assessment (LMRA) is a short and final assessment at the workplace conducted with workers to ensure that the estimated risk and the measures that are taken are consistent with the situation at the workplace.
- Prior to executing the job, all employees who carry out the job confirm that all control measures are in place as per Pre-Task Analysis (PTA).
- A final double check (4 eyes principle) of the permit requirements will be carried out in the field
- Fall hazard risk assessments should include:
- People or things that could fall,
- The proximity of workers to unsafe areas where loads are placed on elevated working areas and where work is to be carried out above people and there is a risk of falling objects
- The adequacy of inspection and maintenance of plant and equipment (for example, scaffolding)
- Hazardous features of the work site (e.g. chemicals, flammable substances, gas);
- Environmental conditions (e.g. lighting, rain, wind, lightning, dust, heat);
- Selection of appropriate control measures using the hierarchy of controls;
- Selection of appropriate equipment (including suitability of footwear, clothing, condition of ladders etc.),
- Selection of anchor and tie off points;
- Condition of supporting structures, such as roofs, pipes and beams
- Competency and fitness for work of personnel;
- Access and egress; and
- Emergency response and rescue plan.
Third: Risk Control Measures (considering hierarchy of controls)
Once a Working at Heights Risk Assessment has been completed, appropriate risk control measures must be put in place to eliminate risks so far as is reasonably practicable, and if it is not reasonably practicable to do so, then to minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
- Can the need to work at height be avoided to eliminate the risk of a fall?
- Carry out as much work as possible that involves the risk of a fall on the ground
- Can the fall be prevented by working on solid construction?
- A building or structure that is used as an existing place of work and includes safe access and egress from which there is no risk of a fall from one level to another, for example properly constructed stairs with fixed handrails, or permanently installed guard rails around the edges.
- Can the risk of a fall be minimised by providing and maintaining a safe system of work, including:
- Providing a fall prevention device (for example, installing guard rails) if it is reasonably practicable to do so; or
- Providing a fall-arrest system, so far as is reasonably practicable, if it is not reasonably practicable to provide a fall prevention device.
In some cases, a combination of control measures may be necessary, for example using a safety harness while working from an elevating work platform.
Control measures are needed where there is a risk of injury irrespective of fall height. For low falls, you should assess the risk and provide reasonably practicable measures that reflect the risk.
Work of long duration and higher frequency will usually require control measures higher up the hierarchy to provide adequate protection, for example using a mobile scaffold instead of a ladder.
One should also ensure that the control measures selected do not create new hazards.
In the next part of this article, we will cover different methodologies and aids available for implementing risk control measures. In the meantime, follow these tips and work safely at height.
Watch this space for more…