I hear from businesses in my Glasgow constituency about the challenges facing people who work at height, especially in construction and engineering. This is why, with the support of the Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Working at Height was set up.
In 2014, the standardised death rate in the UK was 0.55 for each 100,000 employees, one of the lowest in Europe. However, with every fall potentially resulting in life-changing conditions, more must be done to stamp out poor practice and protect workers.
Throughout 2018, the APPG collected extensive evidence on why so many of our friends, colleagues and family members leave for work in the morning and do not return in the evening, and what practical steps should be taken to create a safer working environment. The enormous response from industry was testament to the importance of this issue. Industry is constantly finding new ways to improve the safety environment for its workers. Now policy makers must catch up.
At present, a lack of empirical data prevents us fully grasping the root causes of falls from height. This is compounded by a cultural obstacle when it comes to supporting people to report unsafe practices. From the responses, it is clear that a system of enhanced reporting through RIDDOR is required to record the scale of a fall, as well as the work-at-height method used and circumstances surrounding the incident.
In Scotland, a fatal accident inquiry is carried out when a death results from an accident at work
The APPG also noted the importance of recording near-misses and minor incidents that do not result in more serious injuries. A greater understanding of why incidents happen can help to change behaviours and prevent more serious falls. These systems alone will not prevent such incidents – cultural change is needed to ensure workers feel able to disclose information confidentially without fear of repercussions.
On 26 February, the APPG published Staying Alive: preventing serious injury and fatalities while working at height, which highlights the inconsistency of safety regulation across the UK. In Scotland, a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) is carried out when a death results from an accident at work. FAIs are not about apportioning blame through criminal proceedings but are a process to establish the facts surrounding a death. To protect workers adequately, an equivalent system to Scotland’s FAI process must be extended to the rest of the UK.
There are also areas of safety legislation that require further consultation. The APPG is calling for a new digital technology strategy, which would include tax reliefs for small businesses and sole traders to enable them to invest in the latest technology. Every individual deserves equal protection from falls, regardless of the employer’s size. We also need a major review of the culture surrounding work at height and to do more to raise awareness in more difficult-to-reach sectors.
The APPG’s work does not stop here. Our report is the first step in a wider process of systematic and cultural change. We have made radical recommendations to government and it is now time for policy makers to act.