This is a photograph taken by the Health & Safety Executive and used recently in a court case prosecuting the contractor responsible for failing to comply with Work at Height Regulations.
Whenever I see photos like this, I just find myself asking the same questions:
Why, how, what?
Most people reading this will be aware of the need to prevent falls from height, but there is more to this than just guardrails.
Why did the two operatives feel they had to climb up onto that flat roof and work without adequate fall protection?
How had the contractor initially intended the work to be done safely?
What had the employees been instructed to do?
In recent articles, I have said we need to make working safely easier than not.
The investigation by the HSE found that the company had not followed its own procedures, and the workers had not been given sufficient training in working safely on roofs.
I cannot say what happened in these circumstances, nor am I going to speculate, but let’s look at how we might go about planning the task and engaging the workers so that they don’t seek shortcuts.
The provision of a scaffold would reduce the risk of a fall, but it is essential that the scaffold does not impinge on the work that needs to be done waterproofing the flat roof. Getting the scaffold contractor and the waterproofing team involved at the planning stage would hopefully iron out that problem as well as how the operatives will gain access to the roof.
But how do you stop an employee from jumping up there earlier than the scaffold is in place? We work in an industry where improvisation and a can-do attitude are applauded, so taking the initiative to get on with some work, rather than wait may seem like the right thing to do.
This is where Behavioural Based Safety comes in, not to stifle hard work, but to help employees to recognise the consequences of such decisions, and to empower them to challenge situations where they don’t feel safe.
Managers need to lead by thought and action, and support operatives when they highlight concerns. Not only that, but they need to consult with workers to ensure that both the most sensible and a safe solution are put in place for every challenge.