Safety & Access

How Scaffolding Safety Has Changed Over The Years

June 7th, 2019

It’s safe to say that, over the years, the health and safety processes in place have certainly improved for scaffolders and other individuals working at a height. Looking back some 50 years ago and these workers were putting their lives at risk on a daily basis, in order to meet the requirements for the country’s development.

A video highlighting the introduction of high-rise construction in London in the 1960s shows just how dangerous working at a height was back then. Workers are seen balancing across bars to tighten up scaffolding structures, working at great heights without any supporting equipment, and shimmying down ropes from level to level. You hear the reporter states that “you need the steel nerves of a mountaineer for this job” and that’s only the half of it.

Fortunately for the workers of today, safety legislation and processes have improved immensely over the last 50 years, to minimise the amount of risk involved with working at a height. Although risks cannot be eliminated altogether, you won’t see shocking and unnecessary steps being taken in the construction industry of today, thanks to the regulations now in place.

The Working at Height Regulations 2005

Watching the video and looking at the iconic images of builders working on the New York skyline, is enough to demonstrate just how risky working at a height used to be. In fact, working at a height was and still is, the biggest cause of workplace fatalities. It’s not surprising then, that the government body, the HSE, took it upon themselves to introduce various health and safety legislations directed at those in charge of workers carry out their roles at a height.

The first official legislation was the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974), which provided a system for individuals to adhere to in order to optimise workplace health and safety. Codes of practices and working conditions were included in the legislation, which employers and self-employed professionals were expected to adhere to, in order to reduce workplace fatalities and injuries.

The introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974) reduced workplace fatalities from injury by 86% by 2015, but there was plenty more to be done in order to protect those individuals working at a height.

That’s where the Working at Height Regulations 2005 came into play, which are the current laws in place that must be adhered to by any employers or managers requiring employees to work at a height. They were implemented on the 6th April 2005 and aim to protect workers and prevent as many injuries and fatalities as a result of falling from a height. Self-employed professionals are also expected to follow the Working at Height Regulations 2005.

It’s clear to see just how much emphasis and importance is now placed on the health and safety of workers today, especially when it comes to those working in dangerous conditions.

The Development of Working at Height Equipment

With the development of health and safety legislation over time, came the development of various pieces of equipment designed to improve the safety of workers carrying out their roles from a height.

Gone are the days where workers would hang from worn ropes, or balance along the edge of multiple storey buildings – today’s working environment provides a much safer and secure way of carrying out these challenging roles, thanks to the development of various pieces of safety equipment.

From scaffold towers with minimum height guardrails, to access platforms for safe and simple accessibility, through to mobile elevating workplace platforms (MEWPs) for hard to reach areas and more – there’s now an abundance of effective safety equipment for employers to invest in, to ensure a safe space for their employees to work in. These pieces of equipment fall into what’s known as collective prevention measures, which groups together the various aspects of safety that don’t require a person to act in order to be effective.

There’s also equipment which falls into what’s known as personal prevention measures, which requires the individual to follow certain processes in order for it to be effective. An example of these types of safety equipment include the proper fitting and connecting of a safety harness.

Here we’ve highlighted just a few ways in which modern equipment has been developed to improve the level of risk involved in working at a height. However, it goes without saying that the relevant skills and knowledge is required in order for individuals to use this equipment effectively.

The Introduction of Working at Height Training and Qualifications

To make sure a workplace and its members are adhering to the working at height legislation of today, a number of industry recognised training schemes and qualifications have been introduced.

The Construction Industry Scaffolders Record Scheme (CISRS) is one of the more influential schemes available, which offers various training courses for workers in different roles or requiring different levels of skills and experience. The short-term training courses provide the relevant knowledge and practical skills needed to safely construct and make use of different types of scaffolding platforms. Team members can progress through different course levels and into management, where they oversee the safe use of scaffold towers by other workers.

There’s also the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) which also offers training courses and qualifications, this one being for the safe and proper use of powered access equipment as opposed to scaffold towers. With training schemes and qualifications like this in place, employers can rest assured that their employers have been provided with the relevant skills and knowledge to carry out their roles in a safe and effective manner.

From the introduction of legislation to the development of safety equipment and the schemes that bring it all together, we can see just how far we’ve come in the last 50 years, to try and reduce the risks when working at a height over the last 50 years.