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Falling figures, not falling people

Posted on December 12, 2022

A simple web search will reveal that every year falls from height are the biggest cause of deaths at work in the UK and most of them are in construction.

When I started to research this blog I found a news story of a man who fell 12 metres through a skylight to his death. He was a 39-year-old father-of-two.

As I write this now, two weeks later, I’ve just carried out another online search. Sure enough there are several new similar stories. One involves a 57-year-old man who fell from a cherry picker while doing construction work. He wasn’t wearing a harness.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stats confirm that every year construction is the most dangerous industry. Latest figures, covering April 2021 to March 2022 show that 123 workers were killed in work-related accidents in the UK and the industry with the highest number of deaths was construction, with 30, nearly half of which were from falling from height.

Agriculture, forestry and fishing and manufacturing were the next highest. The most common cause of fatal injuries continues to be falling from height at 29.

Changing attitudes

While attitudes to working at height have changed over the years there are an awful lot of small contracting construction companies which are run, almost without exception, by people who once worked on site and are still likely to have an attitude of: “I used to do it, you can too.” Yet the fact remains that working at height is dangerous.

In the construction industry there has been a realisation that there is no safe height from which to work – people can be injured falling from the height of a desk. So, we have moved on from ‘height’ being high because when we talk about, for example, working from the top of a van or from 12 stories up, there’s very little difference.

These days we also don’t think of height as just being off the ground – it’s the fall, ie: something you could fall into like a hole or a water treatment works – anywhere there’s an ‘excavation’. It’s important therefore to ask: “could you or a colleague be injured falling from that place?” If the answer is “yes”, then you are ‘at height’.

When someone dies at work following a fall, HSE investigates because employers have a “legal responsibility to plan and organise work to ensure it can be carried out safely”. If work at height cannot be avoided, a safe means of access must be provided such as mobile elevated work platforms or suitably constructed scaffolding.

The basics

Planning and organising is about putting control measures in place. The basics! This means looking at what the job is, the space, the floor and to work out what will be needed and to determine any access equipment.

It’s also important to know what equipment is out there because it often changes. Hire shop catalogues are a great resource. It’s part of the job of a professional in this sector to be aware of what’s available to you and to choose the appropriate equipment for the task and the environment and the people who will be using it. So often the wrong equipment is used.

Risk and method statements are important because that involves the processes of thinking and putting in control measures. For risk, ask the following: “what are we doing, what could go wrong, who could be hurt and how can we reduce the likelihood of an accident or even prevent it?” Write it down so you can share and discuss it. This is about discipline.


Training helps to reinforce safety messages and it helps to confirm to people that what they are doing is right. Courtley Health & Safety runs various comprehensive working at height courses that cover subjects like the A-Z of scaffolding, platforms, harness use, working safely on a roof, ladders and stepladders, handling materials at height, as well as current legislation.

We also offer PASMA training where workers can gain the necessary accreditation enabling them to erect, alter, move, and dismantle mobile towers safely. The courses are aimed at anyone who is responsible for using or inspecting towers in the workplace. Almost without exception anyone who comes on this course walks away having learned something. I will actually refund the course money if they haven’t.

What’s great about our facility here in Knowsley is that not only do we have all the kit, but it’s also a safe place to learn. People can ensure they are getting it right without fear of that ridicule often associated with work places/sites. And with everyone joining in and sharing the experience it makes it more likely that there will be effective implementation. That’s health and safety.

The cost of something going wrong is extremely high, both to life and the pocket. Someone might die or suffer life altering injuries and meanwhile the fines might mean that it will be difficult for a negligent company to continue trading.

The UK maybe one of the safest places to work in the world, but the sad reality is that next year half of the people who die on construction sites will be as the result of a fall because that has been the case for as long as I can remember. So, safety at work has always to be a priority.

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