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 benefit 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 accident report sheets collected by the Polish Central Statistical Office from January 1st until the end of September 2011, 5879 accidents have occurred in the Polish construction industry. Compared to an analogous period of the preceding year, this is an improvement by 5,1%. In the same period, the number of fatal accidents also fell, from 66 to 56. 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.
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 equipment.
The fact that 2353 of the injured, meaning, 40% of them, have worked at a plant, where an accident occurred at that same position less than a year earlier, is critical against this background.
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 37% of all accidents at work in Poland.
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 actions.
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.
The question, asked of construction site managers, on how to appropriately protect people working at heights, is in most cases answered with 'equip them with safety harnesses'.
The last decade saw great improvements in this regard. Even in the 1990s, safety harnesses were rarely used on construction sites in Poland, and today even small companies are equipped with them. Still, time has shown that harnesses have not alleviated the problem.
Over half of construction site accidents are still cases of falling from heights. Labour inspectors daily see employees wearing safety harnesses, which are not connected to anything. They see people working at heights without any protection, with new harnesses, without any signs of use, lying beside them. The consequences of the fact that employees ignore the use of safety harnesses, or that they use them incorrectly, are borne by people supervising construction site work.
Moreover, they also take on other duties such as checking whether lengths of ropes are appropriately selected for the relevant dangers, whether an appropriate anchor point with sufficient strength is ensured for employees to be able to hook their equipment up, checking whether their equipment is in proper technical condition, whether the best before date has not expired, whether an employee is properly trained, etc.
One has to keep in mind, however, that a safety harness, despite being the basic component of an employee's individual protective equipment if one is working at a height, only constitutes a functional whole guaranteeing full safety if it is connected to an anchor point via a fall arrest or prevention system.
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.
In relation to the above, the provisions presently in force include the rule that first priority in securing safety of workers is given to group protective measures, because they exclude the will of the worker whether or not to use them.
According to par. 1 of annex 2 to the ordinance of the Polish Minister of Labour and Social Policy on general provisions of occupational health and safety, the individual safety measures should only be used in situations when hazards cannot be avoided or when they cannot be sufficiently limited by group safety measures or appropriate work organisation - which does not alter the fact that personal protective equipment remains immensely important.
From observations and analyses conducted by Betomax, operating on the Polish market for more than a dozen years already, may be concluded by the statement that the basic cause of fatal accidents in the construction industry, which is, in fact confirmed by Polish statistics, is falling from a height. Because the probability of a fall may be greatly reduced, the company Betomax Polska has introduced and is developing two systems of edge protection - Secumax and Secumax Individual.
WORKING AT HEIGHTS
Being at a height during the execution of professional duties is unavoidably related to the execution of numerous diverse works, such as:
The greatest number of falls from heights (as indicated by the statistical data published by the Polish Central Statistical Office) is related to an improper state of the material component, including safety equipment. The main cause are improper statics and resistance strength of the structure, on which the workers are present. Other contributing factors are hidden faults and improper use (installation, mounting, gripping, holding, securing) of the equipment required for working at heights.
The construction site, its form and character, should be construed as one of the most dangerous places of work, indicating a particularly high risk level.
The cause of a major part of accidents may also be presence at elevations in locations foreseen for other tasks, improper coordination of diverse works, hazards due to external factors, and others.
For this reason, in the year 2003, the Polish Minister of Infrastructure has issued an ordinance, defining that during the execution of construction works, persons being at an elevation of at least one metre from ground or floor level, should be protected against falling from a height (Journal of Laws of 2003, no. 47, item 401, par. 133.1).
In relation to this, according to the relevant provisions, two groups of safety equipment are used for the purpose of preventing accidents
Collective safety equipment protects a worker or a group of workers against dangerous and hazardous factors found individually or jointly in a work environment, constituting technical solutions used in the open, in rooms, where work is carried out, as well as close to machinery or other devices. Technical solutions allowing safety, are barriers, shields, or such devices, which fulfil one or more of the functions indicated below:
Personal safety equipment denotes all kinds of measures borne or held by the employee for the purpose of their protection against one or a greater number of hazards related to the presence of dangerous or hazardous factors in the work environment, including as well accessories and additional equipment foreseen for this purpose. They should be used in situations, when the execution of numerous activities (i. e. during removal of collective safety measures) is possible only with their use. Personal safety measures, in order to ensure sufficient and effective protection, should:
Proper selection of measures is conditioned on many factors, and must span one of two functions or both functions at the same time:
The conditions of use of safety equipment should be described in the instructions for safe execution of works, and must conform to the risk assessment. Instructions and indications should be available to the user, and the employee should be trained with respect to their usage and implementation.
Personal safety equipment includes:
The legislator has determined that priority of use, irrespective of the present condition of workplaces or any condition aimed at, should be given to collective safety measures (technical protection measures) against personal safety measures. This should be understood as using personal safety measures if personal protective measures may not be used for technical reasons.
Individual solutions may be used in exceptional cases that require proper steps to ensure sufficient employee safety.
When organising works at heights, the construction site manager is obliged to ensure appropriate safety measures, which shall guarantee safe working conditions. Properly assumed criteria ensure proper movement and execution of all professional duties and other activities by all employees. The methods and measures implemented must be effective, so that the solutions created prevent falls and injuries to persons working at heights.
Placement of passage corridors to places of work at heights, particularly between ceiling slabs, platforms, suspended passages or overhead platforms in both directions, must be planned in such a way, so that no additional risk of falling arises. In addition, when entry using ropes and worker position arresting equipment is utilised, the relevant worker must be provided with a properly equipped seat.
Movement between and work on particular levels of the building also requires the use of temporary edge-mounted safety systems. This is an often-used safety measure. Such a barrier is composed of an edge plank with a height of 150 mm and a topside safety handrail. The handrails are placed at a height of 1,10 m, and in system scaffolding, at a height of 1,00 m.
The free space between the plank and the top handrail is filled by a lower handrail preventing against falling from a height. Both the plank and the handrails must be affixed to pillars embedded in grips appropriate for the relevant situation. The grips are affixed directly to structural load-bearing components of the relevant building or structure. In such a way, openings in ceilings or falls are also protected, as well as balconies, elevator shafts, where works are conducted or which people might have access to.
Despite the undertaken activities, flaws are often seen at construction sites during working at heights, i. e.:
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:
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).
Work on roofs
Particularly dangerous places include roofs and works carried out on them. Roofing works and other works close to the edge of a flat roof, which has an inclination of up to 20%, requires the use of appropriate safety measures preventing falls from heights. Safety measures include collective safety equipment, particularly barriers, protective nets and safety nets as well as individual safety measures.
The execution of works on a roof with an inclination exceeding 20% requires the use of safety scaffolding and personal safety measures.
Any fall from a roof will result, in the best of cases, with grave bodily injuries. The risk is always great, irrespective of whether the works carried out lasted long or short. Numerous victims of fatal injuries were supposed to go up to the roof for just a few minutes to 'quickly check' something or make a quick fix.
In relation to that, one could think that the only obvious thing is securing a workplace against falling from heights. It is very important to consider installing fixed structural points on roofs, used for mounting of anchor devices and personal safety equipment, already during the design phase.
Such certified anchor points are an enormous investment in the future, because they will be utilised later on to maintain and repair building roofs. For roofs of large halls and stores, and ideal solution is the installation of a permanent system of safety devices at edges or the top of the roof. The company Betomax offers just such solutions to its customers.
Particularly for these needs, the individual constituent parts of the Secumax Individual system were created as structural anchor points (in line with standard PN-EN 795), which will enable the use of individual and collective safety measures during execution of works on roofs with an inclination of up to 10°.
Such works include:
The use of components of the Secumax Individual system allows, depending on relevant needs, the execution of individual safety devices based on requirements of norm PN-EN 795. This provides the option of using safety harnesses systems and belts, arrest ropes and safety ropes, safety suspension systems, snaphooks and other devices.
The Secumax Individual system allows similarly the implementation of temporary protective barriers conforming to requirements of standard PN-EN 13374. At structural anchor points installed are standard system grips (side grips), and then barrier pillars with railing planks are inserted into the system grips. In such a way, temporary collective protection against falling from heights may be created in a quick and easy way.
1. Polish Central Statistical Office. Department of Labour. 'Labour market monitoring'. ZWS statistical publishing house - no. 206/2011 - 155.
2. Polish National Institute of Labour.
3. Polish General Labour Inspectorate, Department of Preventive Measures and Promotion.
4. 'The construction industry - Selection of technical resources protecting against falls from heights' - ed. Izabela Skrzecz.
5. Dagmara Kupka, 'Collective safety measures against falls from heights,' District Labour Inspectorate of the city of Łódź.