How falls at work happen

Falls from height have consistently been one of the most common causes of injuries sustained in the workplace according to the statistics compiled on year on year by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE divide their fall statistics between falls from height that involve steps and stairs and those that don’t but regardless of this statistical differentiation the injuries that result from such falls in totality can range from the immediately fatal through a spectrum to those from which recovery is rapid and complete.

The reasons such falls occur are many and varied and will be investigated below, but fundamentally they usually occur due to employers failing in their legal duty of care to their employees to remove or minimise wherever practical, the likelihood of injury as a result of the working environment and working practices. At one or multiple points along the Planning (safe working practices and procedures), Providing (a safe environment and safety equipment), Training (employees to be aware of health and safety issues and how to correctly use the safety equipment) (PPT) pathway, the employer fails and the employees can pay a heavy price with regard to their wellbeing as a result.

The most common manifestations of an employers’ failure to discharge their duty of care fall into two categories; firstly in an unsafe environment and/or equipment and secondly in a failure to train employees adequately, i.e. to operate machinery or use equipment safely and correctly and/or to be aware of health and safety issues and comply with health and safety regulations pertinent to their jobs. In practical terms this leads to the following circumstances most commonly causing falls.

The following list is not exhaustive but provides a good indication of the variety of situations and environments which directly contribute to falls in the workplace – it makes for depressing reading as these circumstances aren’t historical but currently occurring across the country as you read this. Poor lighting, lack of hand or guardrails on steps, badly assembled scaffolding, excessive weight on scaffolds, working on scaffolds in high winds, using badly maintained or unrepaired ladders, ladders slipping from under users, working on structurally unsound roofs, falling through roofs and skylights, working from height in trees with faulty harnessing or inadequate tree climbing training, a cluttered environment, uneven ground surfaces, wet or greasy floors, cleaning large immobile lorries, ice or snow, lack of training in how to spread body weight and minimise injury in the event of fall, a lack of personal protective equipment.

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