General Information

General provisions

According to the ordinance of the Polish Minister of Infrastructure of February 6th, 2003, on occupational health and safety during the execution of construction work (Journal of Laws no. 47, item 401), which entered into force on September 19th, 2003, persons remaining at their workplaces, which are located at least one metre above the relevant floor or ground level, should be protected against falling from a height through the use of safety barriers.

A barrier should be made of a kerb plank with a height of ≥ 0,15 m, and a safety railing located at a height of 1,1 metre. Between the hand rail and the plank, there should be a beam at half this distance, or this space should be filled in a manner preventing the possibility of people falling through.


Construction site management

Construction site management activities are conducted before commencement of construction work. Such work spans as follows, among others:

  • preparation of roads for trolleys and wheelbarrows, located over ground level at a height exceeding one metre, which must be protected by safety barriers,
  • equipping passages (with an inclination over 15%) with crosswise installed planks, at a spacing not exceeding 0,4 m, or with stairs with a width not lower than 0,75 m, with protection in the form of safety barriers at least on one side,
  • securing exits from warehouses and passages between buildings exiting to roads using safety handrails placed at a height of 1,1 metre,
  • fencing off the hazard zone, where a risk of items falling from great heights exists, with safety barriers.

 

Working at heights

Persons remaining at workplaces located at a height of at least one metre above the relevant floor or ground level should be protected against falling from a height through the installation of safety barriers. This applies both to passages and routes to these workplaces as well as to staircases. Other locations, which may be present during the execution of works at heights, requiring the use of protective measures in the form of safety barriers, include, among others:

  • ceiling openings, such as elevator shafts or openings of staircases, around which works are being conducted and which may be accessed by people,
  • openings in constructed building internal walls, ceilings or others, the bottom edge of which is found under 1,1 m from the ceiling slab or platform level,
  • openings left over during execution of works on walls, in particular openings for doors, balconies, elevator shafts, should also all be protected by the safety barriers mentioned earlier.

Safety barriers are basic means of collective protection. They should be used when workplaces, corridors and passages, edges and openings in walls or ceilings are to be protected. A safe barrier is made up of a kerb plank with a height of 0,15 m, and a protective hand rail at a height of 1,1 m.
The free space between the plank and the handrail is filled in a manner protecting the employees against falling from heights. Detailed requirements concerning barriers and their strength and resistance are given in Polish Standard PN-EN 13374 - Temporary Edge Protection Systems.

The barriers should be stable, fixed permanently to structural components, and resistant to the pressure exerted by a worker. The most important factor is resistance of the material, from which the handrail is made. Due to ease of installation, wooden planks are most often used for this purpose.

It is important for them not to be broken or partially damaged and to have a sufficient thickness, which would sustain the weight of an adult person. In any other case, the barrier might pose an additional threat. A further factor is the mode of installation. The ideal case is installing barriers on grips specially foreseen for this purpose.

Modern barrier systems differ between them by the mode of installation of the support pillars. The most commonly used are:

  • clamp systems
  • floor anchor systems
  • I-beam-shelf mounted systems
  • pillar and façade-mounted systems

Thanks to the use of the indicated systems (i. e. through anchoring to a different component than the ceiling slab), the worker has the option of working with full access to the edge (i. e. doing sheet steel processing work on the roof), keeping in mind that they are fully safe.

 

Earthworks

During the execution of earthworks, the hazard spots must be fenced off and warning signs need to be placed. Apart from that:

  • during the execution of earthworks (excavations), at dangerous locations and at spots generally accessible to persons not employed at these works, safety barriers have to be set up, furthermore carrying warning signs, and in the night red warning lights are required. Safety barriers should be placed at a distance lot under 1,0 metres from the excavation edge, and their top railing should be placed at a height of 1,1 metre above the ground,
  • if the excavation pit is covered, instead of safety measures described above, the working area may be marked out by pillars and ropes or artificial material bands placed along the excavation edge at a height of 1,1 metres and at a distance of one metre from the excavation edge, however, this solution may only be used if small excavations are made.

 

OHS requirements concerning working at heights in the construction industry

The employer has the duty of ensuring appropriate safety measures entailing i. e. the use of safety devices such as edge equipment (safety barriers, safety nets), and appropriate markings of hazard zones and places, among which can be named i. e. ceiling slab openings, ceiling openings, window openings without accessories, etc.
Apart from that, the employer is responsible for:

  • execution of a professional risk assessment for the executed works,
  • removal of hazards at the source of their emergence,
  • usage of modern technical solutions,
  • prioritising collective safety measures over personal safety measures,
  • training employees with respect to occupational health and safety,
  • informing the employees about existing hazards, in particular about hazards, from which personal safety measures will protect them, and about transfer of information concerning the rules of their use,
  • the appointment of an occupational health and safety coordination officer, in case workers employed by various employers would be conducting work at the same location at the same time.

 

How to prevent falls from heights?

When organising work at heights, the construction site manager is obliged to provide appropriate protective measures, which shall guarantee safe working conditions. Properly assumed criteria shall ensure safe movement and execution of all professional and other duties by all employees. The resources utilised must be effective, so that the created solutions prevent falls and injuries of persons working at heights.
The arrangement of corridors and passages leading to places of work at heights, in particular between ceilings, platforms, passages or bridges, in both directions, must be foreseen in such a way so that no additional risk of falling emerges. In turn, using an entrance technique utilising ropes and position fixing equipment, they have to be provided with a properly equipped seat. Movement and work on different building levels also both require the use of temporary edge safety systems. This is a safety resource that finds utilisation very often.
A barrier is made up of a kerb plank of a height of 150 mm, and a topside safety hand rail. The top rails are placed at a height of 1,10 metres, and in system scaffolding, at a height of 1,00 metres. The free space between the plank and the top hand rail is filled by a lower rail, protecting against a fall from a height. Both the kerb plank and the hand rails must be affixed to pillars embedded in grips, selected appropriately for the relevant purpose.
Grips are installed directly on building and structure load bearing components. In such a way, ceiling and wall openings are also protected, as are balconies and elevator shafts where works are conducted or to which people might have access.
Despite the actions undertaken, insufficiencies are often seen at construction sites during working at heights, i. e.

  • execution of construction works without a safe work organisation concept,
  • lack of notification of the workers about occupational risk related to the executed work,
  • no documented acceptance procedures for scaffolding before their transfer to use,
  • no specialist training,
  • no effective oversight over the works conducted at heights,
  • safety measures being installed only after the execution of dangerous work is concluded.

The best method of safely running a building execution process is work safety management, or in other words, considering such aspects related to the work as:

  • determination of hazards and options of their removal,
  • use of appropriate safety measures,
  • inspecting the existing state of affairs of occupational health and safety, and training employees in this regard.

The basic tool for proper organisation of work and for selection of all kinds of preventive measures is the evaluation of occupational risk. The evaluation measures utilised, including technical safety measures against falls from heights, should ensure safe working conditions. A documented risk assessment should be periodically analysed and updated (i. e. in case safety measures utilising novel technical solutions become available on the market, or in case new hazards arise).
Apart from that, the general condition of scaffolding, in particular platforms and safety barriers, should be checked every day, before commencement of work.

 

HORRIFYING STATISTICS

Among the total number of those injured in work accidents in the construction industry:

  • every third person loses their life,
  • every second person is heavily injured.

Note: Accidents when working at heights often cause death or permanent disability.

The World Health Organisation says that 52% of the world's population spends as much as a third of their adult lives at work, actively contributing to creating goods and value for the general profit of society. The execution of work is usually accompanied by dangerous, hazardous and disturbing factors. It is the obligation of the employer to undertake actions (in particular technical and organisational steps) to remove or at least limit the occupational hazards caused by these factors.

Based on data from work accident information sheets collected by the Polish Central Statistical Office (Pl. GUS, Główny Urząd Statystycznych)l, there were 8145 accidents in the construction industry in Poland. Compared to the year 2011, this constitutes an improvement of 11,68%. In the same period, the number of fatal accidents also well, from 99 to 82 cases. Heavy accident statistics were also improved, as in the year 2011, 141 persons were injured, with 131 persons injured in the year 2012. The number of days of inability to work as a result of accidents also fell, from 53,2 to 46,8 days per injured person. This proves that construction companies, learning from conclusions from the previous years, adhere in more and more cases to requirements of occupational health and safety, including utilising modern and system safety measures protecting their personnel from falls from heights. It is precisely thanks to systems such as Secumax that these dreadful statistics are improving step by step. Thus, during the execution of diverse construction work, often done at heights, special safety measures must be maintained due to the high hazard for the health and life of the employees. Sadly, the number of accidents remains very high as compared to other European countries. Compared to the year 2010, the number of grave accidents rose by 3,4% in the subsequent year, and the average number of days of inability to work, being their effect, rise from 41,7 to 44,7. A consequence of accidents were 246.412 days of absence of employees at construction sites. The most common causes of accidents were: lack of supervision, tolerating divergences from OHS provisions, improper instructions, lack of training, allowing employees to work despite medical counterindications against such work or without medical examinations at all, improper employee behaviour, lack of knowledge of hazards or neglect of hazards and not using personal safety devices.

From an analysis of the data from the past years one may infer that the causes of accidents in the construction industry remain the same, and statistics, despite slight improvements, remain at a constant level. According to data of the Polish Central Statistical Office, the most populous group of injured were construction workers carrying out raw state works - 1800 persons; the group of injured persons in the finishing work branch numbered 1206 persons. The list of most common circumstances of accidents is dominated by slips, falls from heights and being hit by a falling object. There were 3149 such cases. An analysis of the incidents with respect to the age of the injured persons shows that most accidents hurt persons in the group between 30 and 39 years of age - 2117 injured. Very characteristic is also the fact that 3243 injured persons were working at a plant, where an accident at that workplace occurred as well less than a year earlier.

Working at heights thus counts among particularly dangerous work, and a fall from a height is very often the cause of an accident, in most cases, of a grave or fatal accident. In Europe, the most common cause of fatal accidents in the construction industry are falls from heights. They still account for 40% of all fatal accidents at work. According to the data of the Polish Central Statistical Office, falls from heights account for 41,6% of all accidents at work in Poland.

Working at a height is not deemed to be working on a surface, irrespective of the height at which it is found, if this surface:

 

  •  is shielded on all sides by full walls or walls with windows installed, to a height of at least 1,5 m.
  •  is equipped with other fixed structures or devices protecting the worker from falling from a height.

 

 


Remember!
People falling from heights = 40% of fatal accidents at construction sites.

An accident might occur at any moment, and it can be caused by even minor movement or an unimportant activity.


 

Costs of work accidents

Work accidents are also a great financial burden for every company, irrespective of the field of activity or its size. In the construction industry, costs of such accidents on average account for 3% of the annual sector turnover. Investing in OHS equipment allows companies to limit losses from work accidents, which in turn contributes to investment return increases.
Proper understanding of dangers stemming from these factors, and the associated risk, forms the basis for undertaking of diverse preventive activities.
Employers, but employees as well, working in small and medium enterprises, who themselves undertake the evaluation of occupational risks, should precisely analyse the workplace and determine, what could cause a fall or adversely influence their health and the health of other people in their vicinity or working close to them.

According to the District Labour Inspectorate of Łódź, Poland, every day approx. a hundred incidents occur during construction work, assessed as dangerous and less dangerous.
It is also worth considering, whether a simple economic analysis is not sufficient in order to change one's approach to safety. Why, the main task of a company is making a profit. If the side effect of the execution of this goal is the employees' satisfaction and a good night's sleep of people supervising the work, who know that everything possible was done to prevent work accidents, then it's probably worth it.
One should not forget that if there occurs an accident at the construction site, and if it is a fatal accident, then the supervising or oversight entity bears responsibility for not attending to all these duties. This is not only liability for an offence, but also criminal liability, and this state of affairs influences not only the life of the directly responsible person, but also the lives of people closest to them.

All too often, safety measures aimed at protecting against falling from a height are installed only after the dangerous works are concluded. The diagram shown above indicates the conclusion that the barrier was installed only after conclusion of works related to the concrete or reinforced concrete components, which are high risk works. And in course of the works, only temporary safety equipment was installed, or none was installed at all.
If the safety barrier is installed only when works are nearing completion, then the risk of falling from a height during the execution of the works at heights remains very high.
In relation to this, in the provisions in force there exists the prime rule that priority in worker protection is given to collective safety measures, because they exclude the will of the worker to utilise them. According to par. 1 of annex no. 2 to the ordinance of the Polish Minister of Labour and Social Policy on general provisions of occupational health and safety, personal safety measures should be utilised only in situations, when hazards are not to be avoided, or when they cannot be sufficiently limited utilising collective safety measures or proper organisation of labour.

From observations and analyses by Betomax, present on the Polish market for over a dozen years now, stems the conclusion that through the use of an appropriate edge protection system, the probability of an accident may be greatly reduced - which is also confirmed by relevant statistics. Thus, investing in safety allows companies to limit the great losses caused by work accidents, which in turn contributes to profit increases.
Thus, closely observing working methods, reacting to customer needs, and keeping foremost in mind construction site safety, broadly understood quality and financial competitiveness, the company Betomax has introduced and is continuously developing two edge protection systems - the Secumax and the Secumax Individual systems, which, in conjunction with the knowledge and experience of our technical advisers, and with the use of CAD systems to analyse customer designs, allow us to suggest to every customer a solution that shall be the most reasonable for their particular case.

 

Should an employee notice a dangerous situation, they should act immediately, and notify their employer of the emerged danger.

A simple gesture can save a person's life!