Ways of preventing falls from height on the farm

Falls from height
Falls from height

With livestock now turned out to enjoy the longer days and lush green grass, many livestock houses that provide shelter during the winter months are empty.

With these houses laying vacant, farmers choose to carry out routine maintenance tasks and this may include working from height.

Many falls can occur because the farmer has not put precautions in place to protect the employee or themselves. This can sometimes be coupled with the use of faulty equipment or the incorrect use of equipment. Farmers can be under time constraints when it comes to completing tasks on the farm and can convince themselves that routine maintenance tasks “will only take a few minutes”.

This belief may encourage farmers to take a risk in the hope that by simply being careful, will be enough to protect them from a fatal fall.

Regardless of the nature of the fall be it by accidentally stepping on the skylight of a fragile roof or something as simple as losing your balance and falling over an upturned bucket, any fall from height on a farm can be fatal and indeed life changing.

Falls from height are now accountable for almost a fifth of all fatal injuries sustained on farms in Northern Ireland.

Those who have been lucky to survive, suffer from injuries such as fractured and dislocated bones and live with the aftermath of such a fall for the remainder of their life.

Many falls can be avoided; it is reassuring to know that by following the “Stop and Think” checklist and by taking more care, farmers can reduce the likelihood of a fatal fall occurring.

Stop and Think checklist:

Always

- When using a ladder, make sure it is in good condition and long enough for the job

- Watch out for overhead power lines

- Ensure the ladder is tied or footed to prevent slipping

- Keep three points of contact with the ladder and avoid stretching where your belt buckle goes outside the stiles of the ladder

- Check the location of skylights before crossing a roof - they are often hard to see once you are on the roof

- Plan a path to avoid skylights and remember, a skylight won’t hold your weight as it will shatter instantly and you will fall through the opening

- Check for corrosion of the sheets on a corrugated iron roof from below and again when you get up before walking across

- Check that moss or accumulated dirt hasn’t made the sheets slippery before walking out on the surface

Never

- Set up a ladder on the ground with cross slopes or down slopes - level the supporting surface with strong packing

- Try to use a single plank to span the purlins or the joist  - always use crawling boards or lightweight staging

- When carrying out maintenance work farmers should use a fully integrated and properly constructed platform and should avoid using potato boxes, pallets etc.

A properly constructed platform can help to save lives and the individual using the platform should wear a suitable whole-body harness with a work-restraint lanyard.

For those farmers who are handing the routine maintenance of their farm buildings over to a contractor, they should ensure that the equipment, materials etc. that they provide, are fully compliant with the law as someone’s life could depend on the actions of the farmer involved.

For more information or to find out your legal duties as a client or contractor, please contact the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) on 0800 0320 121 or visit their website at www.hseni.gov.uk.