Opinion

Facilities Management – WORK AT HEIGHT

By Tunde Obileye

The hazard of falling from height is one of the major causes of fatal injuries to workers on construction site or doing maintenance work on high rise buildings. And it is a significant contributor to very serious injuries to those who are exposed to similar hazards. With the awareness of the general public to safety issues in the real estate and construction sectors, I believe facilities managers should start to focus attention on many basic principles relating to work equipment and work at height. The perception of work at height often relates to tasks at high levels such as roof work on tall buildings or scaffolding. Whilst this is true to an extent, it is perhaps also important to note that many injuries occur following a fall from heights of a few meters. Accurate statistics may not be available in a country like South Sudan as a result of many unreported cases but the fact is that maintenance workers or contractors operating in both the private and public sectors are exposed to the risk of fall from height.

It is necessary to look at the health and safety issues relating to work at height and to provide essential guidance to minimize risk and protect personnel. There are many products such as rope-based access system, suspended cradle system etc. Specific products have their own standards and set frequencies for their testing and inspection regimes. For example, suspension products such as Abseil Anchor Eyebolts require more regular inspections (six monthly) than other fall protection products like a suspended cradle system which would require a quarterly visual inspection, followed by a six monthly thorough inspection and finally it would involve load testing or running through the gearing to check its effectiveness. It could also require an inspection of the working of all its moving parts. However, this can change depending on prevailing conditions within or external to a building. The location of the building and environmental factors may necessitate that checks be carried out more regularly for example a factory within an environment that produces chemicals or other hazardous substances may require a more regular inspection regime. For companies with extensive building portfolios, it can be difficult to monitor the testing requirements for individual components and when inspection and testing is due. As a result, for multi site FM managers, there is a very definite need to have a dedicated inspection regime which should be tailored to each individual building. This is where a specialist testing and inspection contractor plays a key role in ensuring that all procedures are fully up to date and completely compliant.

It is recommended that the testing and inspection of fall protection systems is carried out by manufacturer approved installer companies. The findings of an inspection report need to be taken seriously and this requires staff to be properly trained in the use of fall protection systems. The main reason for accidents occurring as a result of work at heights is due to human error. The training should cover the organization, planning, supervision, supply and maintenance of equipment.

Whatever the fall protection system in place on a building, one thing is certain, the system will require an ongoing planned maintenance programme. Failure for this to be carried out by an experienced fall protection professional could lead to a lack of duty of care. By working closely with FM companies to provide these services on one or a whole portfolio of buildings, a programme can be created where risks are minimized, workers are offered the best protection and fall protection systems are compliant with all regulatory standards. 

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