WEATHER BOMB: Working at height winter warning for farmers

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With winter upon us the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is warning farmers of the added dangers of working at height during severe weather.

In particular, HSENI is concerned about roof work as falls from or through roofs are one of the main causes of serious injury and death on Northern Ireland farms, accounting for seven deaths over the past four years.

These accidents were mainly due to falls from the edges of the roof, through gaps or holes in the roof and through fragile materials such as roof lights and corroded corrugated steel, which are not designed or able to support a person’s weight.

Warning farmers to take extra care this winter Malcolm Downey, who heads up the farm safety team at HSENI said: “When working at height, farmers should stop, think and prepare, ensuring that they have the appropriate equipment to carry out the task safely.

“Roof work is a particularly high risk activity, not only during construction or repairs but also when getting onto an existing roof for a few minutes to ‘have a look’. So, before any work starts, ask if it is really necessary to go onto the roof at all?

“If you need to go on to a roof please remember that on top of the usual dangers, snow or ice bring added risks. Not only will the roof be extremely slippery but the additional weight may weaken its structural integrity.

“You must also ensure that you know where all roof lights or corroded sheets of roofing are located. Fragile roofs and roof lights will not support your weight and if covered by snow or ice you will not be able to see them and you could fall through the roof in a split second.”

For many tasks carried out at height, the use of a suitable, purpose built work platform correctly secured to a suitable fork lift or materials handler will provide greater protection against falls than the use of a ladder – and will be quicker and easier.

Remember, people should never be lifted on alternatives such as grain buckets, potato boxes, or pallets.

Farmers, and any contractors they hire, need to consider how all work at height will be undertaken safely to ensure the safety of themselves and workers - the following checklist should help.

Working at height checklist

* do I need to go the roof at all?

* have I thought about the best way to get up to the job?

* is the roof material fragile, for example roof lights, rusted corrugated iron or asbestos cement sheets?

* have I got crawling boards or staging to bridge the joists?

* can I see all the roof lights and avoid stepping on them?

* can I use a cherry picker?

* do I have a suitable cage or platform attached to a suitable machine?

* can I avoid using a ladder?

* if using a ladder, is it in good condition – are the rungs and stiles sound?

* is the ladder long enough - reaches to at least 0.9m above the stepping off point?

* is the ladder tied or footed?

For more information on all farming health and safety issues in Northern Ireland, please contact the HSENI helpline on: 0800 0320 121 or visit: