Working at height on the farm is a risky business

Falls from height is one of the leading causes of major injury and death on our farms.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 2:00 pm
Falls from height is one of the leading causes of major injury and death on our farms. The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is reminding the farming community of the dangers associated with working at height and urging farmers to stop and think before they tackle any such jobs
Falls from height is one of the leading causes of major injury and death on our farms. The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is reminding the farming community of the dangers associated with working at height and urging farmers to stop and think before they tackle any such jobs

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is reminding the farming community of the dangers associated with working at height and urging farmers to stop and think before they tackle any such jobs.

Many falls happen while agricultural buildings or other farm structures are being built, demolished or maintained.

These jobs typically involve working at height and require some form of temporary access, such as ladders, scaffolds or other working platforms.

Most agricultural buildings have fragile roofing materials that cannot support the weight of a person and this must be considered when planning the work.

In many cases, simple straightforward physical protection measures can prevent falls occurring, but too often a lack of forward planning results in crucial protection measures being neglected during this high-risk work.

Ladders are a common method to access areas at height on a farm, however, there are many farm incidents each year which are as a 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 purpose-built working platform or a tower scaffold for example. Ladders should only be used as the last resort when there is no safer way of doing the job.

In order to work safely at height the following principles should be followed:

r Avoid work at height if at all possible

r Only undertake work at height if competent to do so

r Before you start, plan and risk assess all work at height, paying particular attention to fragile roofing materials

r Take steps to avoid, prevent or reduce risks

r Before beginning work, ensure a safe system of work is employed and suitable equipment is available to do the job

Also, ensure all the work areas and access platforms are fitted with guard rails.

If this is not possible, install safety nets or air bags underneath the roof or use a harness system.

Remember: Falls on farms often occur because no safety precautions are taken, or the equipment employed is defective, inappropriate, or used incorrectly.

Often people who start a job at height believe it will ‘only take a few minutes’, they take huge risks in the hope that simply by trying to be careful it will be enough in preventing a very serious incident.

The Stop and Think Checklist

Always

r consider, are you capable and competent to do the job yourself or do you need to employ a competent person to do the job for you

r plan and risk assess all work at height

r use suitable equipment for the job

r watch out for overhead power lines

r check the location of the roof lights before crossing a roof – they are often hard to see once you are on the roof

ruse roof ladders or crawling boards to spread your weight when carrying out short term work on roofs.

r plan a path to avoid roof lights and remember, a roof light won’t hold your weight as it may shatter and you will fall through the opening

Never

r use makeshift working platforms such grain buckets, potato boxes or pallets on a forklift truck or telescopic handler

r set up a ladder on ground with cross or down slopes

r 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 or mobile elevated work platform will provide greater protection against falls than using a ladder.

Think about whether there are safer ways to carry out the work.  

Stop and think SAFE, it could save your life.

For more information about working at height please contact the HSENI helpline on 0800 0320 121 or visit: www.hseni.gov.uk/articles/falls-working-safely-height-farms