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Avoiding falls from height in the warehouse

Michael Brown from safety, security and materials handling specialist, Metal and Modular, discusses fall from height risk and the need to ensure the safety of low-level access equipment

Contemporary picking equipment may have removed many of the tasks that would previously have involved working from height in logistics hubs but, even in today’s contemporary warehouses, maintenance and facilities management still involve regular working at height. This, of course, means a higher risk of falls from height.

Reactive maintenance or repairs may need to be carried out quickly to support operational efficiency and business continuity. Maintenance tasks may also be time-critical to ensure the safety of operatives working in the warehouse environment.  

Even when there is no immediate urgency, commercially and operationally, the preference is to carry out FM tasks using in-house low-level access (LLA) equipment. When the access required is just out of range of the LLA units available, a tendency to slightly over-reach the equipment, rather than incurring potential delays and additional costs by hiring alternative access equipment, can result in increased hazard and risk. 

Outside the warehouse environment, LLA units are also commonly used during the loading and offloading process. Here too, correct usage of the equipment is critical to the safety of the user. 

The scale of the issue

Despite widespread improvements in health and safety due diligence and workplace behaviours, falls from height remain the most common cause of accidents at work, resulting in around 80 major injuries per year. Two thirds of injuries are as a result of falls from a height of less than two metres, which may indicate that working from relatively low heights is approached with a lower perceived risk, and is therefore a more severe hazard. 

Falls from height are also the most significant statistic for fatalities in the workplace. They are responsible for 20% of all fatal workplace accidents and, more worryingly still, the statistics suggest the incidence of fatalities due to falls from height is increasing. The latest UK figures were published by the HSE in July 2019. They indicate that 40 people suffered fatal injuries as a result of falling from height during the year July 2018 – July 2019. At the time of writing, the 2019-2020 figures have not yet been released, but we can compare the most recently published figures with the previous year and the narrative is not a good one. The latest statistics represent an increase of five deaths when compared to the previous year. It’s also higher than the average of 37 deaths per year over the past five years.  

Managing hazards

While some workplace environments are inherently hazardous, anticipating and managing hazards to reduce risk is the responsibility of both the leadership team and every member of staff on site. In the warehouse and logistics sector, this is more complex due to the number of contingent workers and agency staff. 

Creating policies, implementing HSE guidance and training operatives in the safe use of access equipment is often the easy part; it’s the potential for un-safe behaviours that increases risk. A lack of perceived hazard, either because the operative trusts their own experience or because they consider a modest height to be low risk, can lead to poor safety behaviours or errors of judgement. When working at height, it only takes a momentary lapse in safety best practice for accidents to occur. 

The Metal & Modular Anti-Climb Guard is fabricated from steel mesh and steel sheet and works by preventing operatives from using the lower handrail as a step, thus also preventing them from climbing onto the upper handrail. The system deflects the foot to prevent any purchase on the handrail and is firmly held in place by tamper-resistant bolts.  

The Anti-Climb Guards are manufactured in 3mm steel with a durable powder-coated finish to withstand the rigours of almost every working environment. Easy to use, with intelligently designed side-rail guards that are secured with locking pins, the guards are fast and easy set-up and take down. The corner guards are securely bolted into place for increased stability and safety, and all guard sets are provided with replacement weight limit signs, which allow for the added weight of the guards. 

TAGS: News Safety
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