26 July, 2012
fifth of our series of blogs looking at safety on the farm, Philip
Wilson looks at the importance of safely working at heights and the
simple steps which can be taken to reduce the risk of a potentially
According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), falls are
the biggest single cause of workplace deaths, and the second
highest cause of death in agriculture. The HSE's 2010/11 figures
show a total of 48 deaths across all industries, and seven in
agriculture - and we're not just talking about working on roofs or
climbing ladders; falls from less than 2 metres above the ground
can prove fatal.
The HSE's recent 'Shattered Lives' campaign was well named -
those who survive a fall will often have suffered broken bones or
in some cases paralysis, and can be left unable to work for long
periods of time, if not permanently.
In agriculture, the risk of suffering a serious injury as a
result of a fall is exacerbated by the fact that farmers often work
alone, which not only increases the risk of an accident happening
but also makes it harder to get help if an injury occurs.
Looking through the HSE's lists of farm accidents in the South
West involving falls makes depressing reading - with people losing
their lives or suffering life-changing injuries in what must have
started out as seemingly innocuous circumstances.
For example, a man dying after falling through a plastic
skylight while working on a dairy roof in North Devon; a feeds
driver for a Devon firm severely injured falling from the top of a
lorry onto a concrete floor while removing the cover from his
vehicle's load; a farm worker suffering severe facial injuries
after falling 5m through a shed roof in Cornwall; a man breaking
his back, arm and ribs after falling 3m whilst working on a barn in
Somerset; a young construction worker suffering life-changing
injuries after falling 6m through the roof of a farm building near
Bath; a farm worker suffering two fractures to his skull after
falling through a barn roof he was repairing in North Devon.
Farmers owe it to themselves and their families to ensure their
own safety but also have a legal obligation to do everything that
is reasonably practical to prevent employees and visitors to the
farm suffering from a fall.
The law states a three-step process which must be followed:
• Avoid work at height where you can; and if not
• Use work equipment or measures to prevent falls; and if
• Use work equipment that minimises the distance and
consequences of a fall
There are several areas of work on the farm where falls are
likely to happen if the correct precautions are not taken, which
include working on roofs, working on vehicles, working with bales,
work platforms on fork lift trucks and working on scaffolds and
At Cornish Mutual we have put together a detailed health and
safety guide to working at heights, and also produced a working at
heights safety video, which help to explain the steps you can take
to minimise risk.
Some of the key points to always bear in mind are:
• Make sure any work at height is properly planned, workers
have completed any necessary training to carry out the job and all
possible precautions have been taken to prevent a fall
• Make sure any equipment being used is in correct working
order and is fit for the job, and make sure employees have the
correct clothing and safety gear for the work (such as steel toe
capped boots and hard hats)
• Use properly erected scaffolding or properly designed work
platforms rather than ladders whenever possible
• Never walk on fragile roofs or roof lights without
platforms or covers which will support your weight have been
For further information on the legal requirements and employers'
obligations in relation to working at height, see the HSE's Work at
For more information about Cornish Mutual's 'FarmSafe' campaign,