What are the legal duties of an employer towards employees working at heights?
A possible Working at Heights scenario
John started his own Construction Company and approaches you as Health and Safety Specialist to advise on the legal requirements for working at heights.
The Legal Position in South Africa
The first matter to be addressed when looking at the legal factors impacting working at heights, is that of General Safety Regulation 6 – Work in Elevated Position: “ No employer shall require or permit any person to work in an elevated position, and no person shall work in an elevated position, unless such work is performed safely from a ladder or scaffolding, or from a position where such person has been made as safe as if he were working from scaffolding”.
Regulation 8 of the Construction Regulations deals with working at heights and the need for a fall protection plan.It is however first important to distinguish between fall prevention and fall arrest.
Fall prevention in its most common form is the use of barricading to protect an employee from falling, whereas fall arrest is a safety harness and safety line that will arrest the employee if he/she was to fall while working at heights.
Fall prevention should always be considered as a first option and fall arrest as a last. The employer has to ensure that, fall prevention and fall arrest equipment is of sufficient and suitable strength, and the fall prevention and fall arrest equipment is securely attached to the lifeline or structure
Fall Protection Plan
In terms of Regulation 8 an employer has a duty to designate a competent person as responsible person for the preparation of a Fall Protection Plan.
This plan must be implemented, amended and maintained as required. The employer has to further ensure that there is adherence to the Fall Protection Plan.
The Fall Protection Plan must include the following as a minimum:
- Must be Site specific (It requires a physical Hazard Identification on site)
- Ensure everything is documented (Its audit evidence that you have done your job)
- Hazard Identification (must be with a site or in house team)
- Risk Assessment (analysis and evaluation with an in house team)
- Management – Manage and control. Don’t forget to manage where changes are brought about
- Determination of Controls – Safe work procedures, Method statements, etc
- Procedures (WSWP) include Who, When, Why, What, Where
- Method statement – focus on How (Method Statement to eliminate risks)
- Rescue Plan (Include how to rescue a person, hanging there, after a fall from height, and within a short time?)
- Emergency Plan (How to safely evacuate site)
- Implement, Maintain, Monitor, Review Plans
The Fall Protection Plan must also address the process for evaluating the employee’s physical and psychological fitness.
Medical conditions that will make a person unfit for work at heights are:
- Hypertension/High Blood pressure,
- Heart Diseases,
- Fear of Heights
A person may under no circumstances be working at heights if they suffer from any of these conditions, even If they are treated by a medical professional. As an employer you have no control over the taking of the medication as per the instructions of the medical professional, one “slip up” can become fatal.
It is shocking to observe on construction sites in South Africa the non-compliance to the legislative requirements set for working at heights, especially the smaller construction companies.
Are you in the same position as John or do you meet all the legislative requirements for working at heights?