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Working safely at height
Learn more about the causes and consequences of fall accidents, which legal regulations apply in Germany and which criteria you should consider in your risk assessment for working on roofs, scaffolding and ladders. In addition, we have compiled some professional solutions for fall prevention for you.
Facts & Statistics: This is what you should know about crash accidents
Falls are the most common cause of fatal accidents at work
The degree of injury severity tends to be particularly high in fall accidents. At 20%, falls are currently the most frequent cause of fatal occupational accidents. In its report on "Occupational Accidents 2020", the DGUV registered 23,320 reportable occupational accidents caused by falls from structural installations. These include, for example, falls from roofs or scaffolding - but also falls from ladders or trucks. In 2020, 46 of these fall accidents ended fatally. This means that almost every week a person in Germany dies as a result of a fall accident. Even if a fall accident is not fatal, it often has long-lasting and serious health consequences for those affected.
In the construction industry, the risk of falling is times higher than the average.
A special evaluation by the German GUV from 2020 shows: Workers in the construction industry and other occupations working on construction sites (e.g. metalworkers or electricians) are particularly frequently affected by fall accidents. The risk of a fall accident is about 4 times higher than the average for all the sectors considered. According to statistics of the German BG BAU, falls from ladders with almost 50 % and from scaffolding with more than 20 % account for the majority of all fall accidents in the construction industry and construction-related services. From 2009 to 2018, BG BAU registered a total of 871 fatal occupational accidents. More than a third of these were the result of a fall.
Even falls from low heights are dangerous
Although the probability of fatal injuries increases with the height of the fall, falls from low heights can also lead to significant injuries. For example, 50 % of all fatal fall accidents occur from a height of less than 5 metres. And fatal accidents have already been recorded at fall heights of less than 2 metres. At lower fall heights, head injuries in particular play a major role. Therefore, suitable head protection should always be worn during such work.
Ladders are the most frequent cause of fall accidents
Statistically, most falls happen when using ladders (31.4 %). Fatalities, on the other hand, are mostly associated with falls from roofs (23.3 %) or scaffolding (16.7 %). High numbers of falls are also registered from lorries and their superstructures, ladders and loading areas.
Causes of fall accidents (Source: German GUV Work Accident Report 2020)
Cause of crash (structural facility)
Trucks as well as ramps, superstructures, loading areas
Scaffolding (incl. mobile and temporary scaffolding)
Excavations, trenches, shafts, (repair) pits
Roofs, terraces, roof trusses, roof runs
Chairs and tables
Ladderways, fixed ladders
Lifting platforms, winches, jacks
Other structural facility at height
Assessment criteria for fall hazards
If a fall hazard is present, the following criteria may play a role in evaluating the level of danger and in deriving appropriate protective measures:
Height difference between fall edge and lower lying surface or object
Nature of the underlying surface or object
For example, bulk materials (sink, suffocate), water (sink, drown), solid ground (hard impact), rebar connections (impale), containers with hot liquids (burn, scald), containers with liquids (drown, cauterise).
Condition of stand and stand area
For example, angle of inclination or degree of slip resistance
Distance to the crash edge
Horizontal distance between the load-bearing/passage-proof surface and the non-load-bearing/non-passage-proof surface as well as the distance between the scaffold decking on the one hand and the building, glass surfaces or structural components on the other hand.
Type and duration of activity
Physical light or heavy, short-lasting or long-lasting, single or frequent activities
For example, vibrations or other very- or balance-influencing influences.
For example, storm, ice and heavy snowfall
For example, lighting, time of day, glare caused by bright surfaces or backlighting or other influences that impair the recognisability of the crash edge, for example.
Ranking of measures for protection against falls from a height
When determining measures for protection against falls from a height, the so-called TOP principle applies. This means that technical protective measures must be given priority over organisational protective measures. These in turn have priority over personal protective measures. In particular, the risk of falling must be prevented or kept as low as possible by selecting the work equipment, taking into account the activities to be carried out. At DENIOS you will find a large selection of suitable work equipment for safe working at height.
Further measures to protect against falling must be selected according to the following order of priority:
Fall protection systems
e.g. covers, railings or side guards.
e.g. protective nets, protective walls, protective scaffolding
Personal protective equipment against falls from a height
e.g. safety harnesses, fall arresters, beam clamps
Important note on the use of personal protective equipment against falls from a height: The appropriate PPE must be selected within the framework of the risk assessment according to the conditions at the workplace. Suitable rescue concepts must be provided to ensure a quick and safe rescue of caught persons (especially in case of risk of suspension trauma). For this purpose, the necessary free space below the stand must be ensured. Suitable anchorage devices must be available. And workers must be instructed in the use of the PPE and instructed on how to carry out any necessary rescue measures.
Work equipment for safe working at heights
Quickly access hard-to-reach work surfaces and heights without much effort: These advantages make the ladder a popular and frequently used work tool. Already by choosing the right ladder model, fall risks can be minimised. Therefore, the different types of ladders should always be taken into account as part of the risk assessment and in consideration of the activity to be performed. For example, stepladders offer more safety and better ergonomics than rung ladders. Stepladders ensure a particularly safe standing position and do not have to be leaned against. And platform ladders have a spacious platform that offers sufficient room to move for demanding activities.
Professional ladders of all types often have additional safety features that make working at height safer: For example, profiled steps, non-slip foot plugs and platforms or pre-mounted handrails.
To avoid fall accidents, you should follow these basic rules when using ladders.
Never use defective ladders (ladders must also be maintained regularly).
Only use ladders that comply with the applicable legislation
Always set up the ladder so that it is stable and safe to walk on.
Always secure the ladder against slipping, tipping over and being knocked over.
Systems for anti-fall protection
At workplaces with a risk of falling that are not collectively secured, the use of personal protective equipment against falls from a height is mandatory.
Important notes on maximum service life: The performance and functionality of PPE against falls from a height is influenced by environmental conditions (e.g. UV radiation, humidity) and conditions of use. For this purpose, the manufacturer indicates the date of discard on the PPE against falls from a height. Alternatively, the PPE against falls from a height may be marked with the month and year of manufacture, in which case all relevant information for determining the discard date must be given in the instructions for use. After expiry of the discard period, the personal protective equipment against falls from a height may no longer be used and must be replaced immediately.
Find out more about the causes and consequences of fall related accidents, any legal regulations that may apply and which criteria you should definitely consider in your risk management for work on roofs, scaffolding and ladders.
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