Falls - working safely at height

Working at height is an ever-present danger on farms - farmers and farm workers of any age run the risk of injury or death from falls.

Preventing falls from height

Falls from height is a leading cause of serious injury and death among Northern Ireland’s farming community, accounting for more than a quarter of all accidents.

Many falls happen while agricultural buildings or other farm structures are being built or maintained. These jobs typically involve working at height and require some form of temporary access, such as ladders, scaffolds, or other working platforms.

Before working at height take a moment to stop and think

Think about the job you are going to do in advance and plan to work safely.

Simple safety measures can dramatically reduce the danger to yourself, your family and other farm workers.

Think about whether or not there are different, new or safer ways to carry out the work.  For example, if a roof requires repair, can you avoid going onto it by carrying out the repair safely from below?

Think about choosing collective measures that will keep everyone working at or near the site safe, like a working platform, before personal measures such as a safety harness.

Think about what equipment is required for the job and for safety.   Precautions should be built in to prevent you or others from falling.  For example, using guard rails at a roof edge, or crawling boards on a fragile roof.

Think about the importance of maintaining your equipment.  Make sure there are no defects in any equipment you use and inspect it regularly.

Remember

Falls often occur because no precautions are taken, or the equipment employed is defective, not appropriate, or used incorrectly. Often people about to do a job believe it will ‘only take a few minutes’. They take the risk in the hope that simply being careful will be enough.

Ladders

Many farm injuries each year result from ladders slipping sideways or out from the base, or someone falling from the ladder. It will often be quicker and safer to use a platform on your forklift truck or a tower scaffold.

Ladders should only be used as the last resort when there is no safer way of doing the job.

Working platforms on telescopic handlers

For planned or regular work at height, you should use a fully integrated and properly constructed working platform. This will have controls that are linked to and isolate the handler controls so that only the person on the platform can control the platform and handler movements.

Falls from open edges

If you are working on a roof you will normally need protection against falling from the roof edge.  Keep in mind that many other maintenance tasks in agriculture can also involve the risk of falling, for example cleaning crop stores.

Falls through roof-lights

Fragile roof-light sheets are often found in roofs which are otherwise non-fragile. If you do not identify these sheets and fail to take appropriate precautions, the consequences can be tragic.

Falls through fragile roofs

In agriculture, roughly half of the deaths and serious injuries resulting from falls involve work on fragile roofs. These are roofs sheeted with materials that will not safely support a person’s weight and can shatter without warning.  

Common examples are fibre cement roof sheets (commonly referred to as ‘asbestos cement’), corroded metal sheets, and many roof-light sheets.

The stop and think checklist

Always

  • when using a ladder, make sure it is in good condition and long enough for the job
  • watch out for overhead power lines
  • ensure the ladder is tied or footed to prevent slipping
  • keep three points of contact with the ladder and avoid stretching where your belt buckle goes outside the stiles of the ladder
  • check the location of roof-lights before crossing a roof - they are often hard to see once you are on the roof
  • plan a path to avoid roof-lights and remember, a roof-light won’t hold your weight as it will shatter instantly and you will fall through the opening
  • check for corrosion of the sheets on a corrugated iron roof from below and again when you get up before walking across
  • check that moss or accumulated dirt hasn’t made the sheets slippery before walking out on the surface

Never

  • set up a ladder on ground with cross slopes or down slopes - level the supporting surface with strong packing
  • try to use a single plank to span the purlins or the joist  - always use crawling boards or lightweight staging

Remember

For many tasks carried out at height, using a suitable, purpose-built work platform attached to a suitable forklift or materials handler will provide greater protection against falls than using a ladder.

Never use makeshift alternatives such as grain buckets, potato boxes, or pallets. Think first and it could save your life. 

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