The dangers of being a scaffolder

The dangers of being a scaffolder

Guest Post

The dangers of working at a height was brought home to Australians recently when a young scaffolder who had only been working on his new job in construction fell over 90 feet (30 metres) and died before paramedics could get him to hospital. His shocked colleagues told how the young man, who has not been named, was part of the Koori Job Ready Program, which is an initiative intended to give young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders a basic training in construction work so enabling them to find employment in the future.

Insufficient training and supervision

Union representatives have suggested that inadequate training and supervision may have been the root cause of the accident, although there is also a possibility that the man was in a part of the site which was not part of his normal working area. The company in charge of the project – Lend Lease – are paid to mentor and train the entrants on the program and doubt has been cast on the quality of this training; Lend Lease have strenuously denied that a lack of training could be the cause of the accident and are on record as saying that they ‘work tirelessly to eliminate incidents and injuries on its worksites’. Police are investigating the site of the accident and are yet to report on their findings.

A timely reminder

This very sad case is a timely reminder to employers and to anyone who works at a height that there is no such thing as too much training, mentoring or supervision. Although the victim of this particular accident was new to the job of working on scaffolding, accidents don’t always just happen to those who are not very experienced. A moment’s inattention is sometimes all it takes for tragedy to strike. Training programmes which include the use of harnesses are recommended for anyone who will be working at a height and a lot of the training given concentrates on the importance of taking care not just for personal safety’s sake but also that of others. The Australian accident could have easily been so much worse – many cases of falls from a height not only result in death or life changing injury for the person falling but also in many cases for someone on the ground.

Training should be all-inclusive

Because construction sites are inherently dangerous places – nearly half of all fatal accidents in the UK in the last recording period happened in construction – many employers nowadays choose to train all of their staff in the safety aspects of working at a height. Although office staff probably cannot see themselves shinning up a ladder in the near future there is no telling what may become necessary in an emergency situation and even if a basically ground-based employee never has to leave ground level it is helpful if they are at least aware of the basic safety precautions that are needed. This is particularly true of managers because they may be put in a position where they must monitor the behaviour of employees working on scaffolding or other platforms and without a working knowledge of safety, they will essentially be unable to be adequate mentors.

Familiarity breeds contempt

This saying is old but that doesn’t stop it being true. Everyone gets complacent at work, no matter how dangerous it is and it can be an uphill struggle to keep everyone focused on how hazardous an environment can be without scaring them so much they don’t want to experience it any more. A very nervous person working at a height can be a liability to co-workers and so a careful path must be trodden between a healthy respect for the dangers of working off the ground and a competency within the parameters of safe working practices. Using harnesses is one case in point – they are clearly life-savers but only if used properly and the habit that some get into of wearing a harness but only loosely buckled to give freedom of movement is in some respects more dangerous than not wearing one at all, in that it gives complacency without safety. A direct analogy would be cyclists – and everyone has seen this happen – who take risks in traffic with a badly-fitted and inadequate helmet on the back of their head as if that one thing confers immortality. Sadly, road accident figures prove this is not the case, as do the forty odd people who die on average at work every year who do so through falling from a height.

Training isn’t forever

Another failing of both employers and employees is the common misconception that training lasts a lifetime. This is by no means true – training should be at least topped up annually and any employee who feels that they are lacking in any aspect of expertise needed for their job should speak up and get themselves some extra training. The problem here is often one of communication – staff may feel awkward about admitting they don’t understand something or that they have forgotten a vital piece of information and they worry that they will be seen as incompetent. In any crowded employment market, most people would rather keep quiet than be labelled as the next one to be ‘let go’ – this is something that employers should take steps to clarify as it could be a matter of life and death.

A clear and present danger

Working at height is dangerous. End of story, really. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that for every foot above the ground, the danger increases by a ridiculously high percentage. On the other hand, some jobs present no alternative but to erect scaffolding, use a moving platform or other equipment, so employers and employees alike must take the steps necessary to make sure that those up in the air and those passing below on the ground take care of themselves and each other to ensure that when the next lot of figures are collated the percentage of accidents and deaths due to falling from a height are as near to zero as possible. Accidents will always happen – incidents due to inadequate training can all be avoided.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below