More than 3 million of us in the UK work on or near vehicles as part of our regular employment, and falls from vehicles are among the most common type of workplace accidents involving transport.
Every year in the UK, more than 2,000 serious injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are caused by people falling from vehicles at work.
It really doesn’t take too much of a fall to land hard and injure yourself. Most of the injuries reported to the HSE caused by falls from vehicles occur below average head height.
Work at Height
According to the law, ‘work at height’ is defined as “work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.”
Getting on or off vehicles while loading or unloading is often seen as part and parcel of many transport-related jobs, but it is this phase where so many work accident falls occur.
Many injuries occur during access on or off vehicle trailers or whilst climbing into or out of lorry cabs. The most common vehicle areas where falls occur are the load area, cab access steps and fifth wheel catwalk - all areas where frequent access is needed during loading and unloading as well as maintenance and cleaning. As such, it is crucial that safe access is provided.
The HSE advise that workers climbing onto vehicles should always use the “three-point hold” rule, whereby using their hands and feet they try and keep at least three points of contact with the vehicle they are climbing on, moving one limb at a time and always testing each new hold as they progress.
Common Fall Causes:
• lack of awareness or training
• inappropriate footwear
• slippery surfaces caused by bad weather, particularly access steps and ladders
• use of inappropriate vehicle parts as support when climbing up or down
• uneven ladders or walkways
• discarded ropes or packaging creating tripping hazards
• broken ropes or torn sheets causing overbalancing
How Can Risks be Minimised?
By law, employers must ensure they take all reasonable steps to prevent workers from falling from any distance that is likely to hurt them. They must also take effective measures to prevent employees from being struck by falling objects.
Planning - Careful planning and risk-assessments should significantly reduce the risk of falls. Risk-assessment questions should include what tasks might involve workers having to climb onto vehicles, what are the risks involved with such activity, can these risks be eliminated and if not, how can they be reduced?
Authorisation - The HSE advise that access to the top of vehicles should be restricted solely to those who need access and employers should consider placing gauges and controls at ground level to prevent workers from having to climb onto their vehicles.
Training - Proper training is paramount. Workers must be trained in how to use work equipment competently. Employee safety must always be every employer’s main priority and safe work practices should always be part of managing risks.
Hazard-Free Work Areas - Vehicle areas should always be kept safe and hazard-free. Steps and handholds should be kept in good condition, load areas should be kept tidy and free of ropes or packaging, and any spills or dirt such as diesel, mud, or water should be cleaned from catwalks and load areas to prevent people from slipping.
Protective Equipment - Loading and unloading should always be planned to avoid the need to work at height. When such work is unavoidable, the HSE advocate the use of harness systems linked to overhead rails such as the ‘Inertia-Reel Fall-Arrest’ system to protect employees from falls. Automatic sheeting systems known as ‘easysheets’ are an effective means of avoiding the need for workers having to climb on vehicles.
Ladders used to access the top of vehicles must be fit for purpose, properly maintained and securely fixed either at the front or back of the vehicle or as close as possible to the relevant vehicle part. Missing or damaged equipment must always be reported and if necessary, replaced.
Fixed platforms, gantries or walkways should be used wherever possible and be made from slip-resistant material. In addition, employers should provide staff with protective equipment such as slip-resistant footwear. Collapsible handrails should also be considered as well as top and middle guardrails to protect employees working whilst standing or crouching.
The purpose of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is to prevent deaths or injuries caused by falls from height.
The regulations require duty holders to ensure work at height is avoided where possible. If it is unavoidable, employers and those in control of all work at height activity must ensure:
• all work at height is properly planned and organised;
• jobs are supervised and performed by trained and competent personnel;
• all equipment used is appropriate for the task and has been properly inspected and maintained;
• all risks have been properly assessed.
Matthew Tomlinson is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer specialising in work accident compensation claims for Slater and Gordon Lawyers.
If you have sustained a serious injury in an accident at work, call our No Win No Fee Personal Injury Lawyers 24 hours 7 days a week on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you back.