Andrew Harrison, ESSA director on continuing to build a robust, safety-first, working culture in events and exhibitions.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) tells us that an average of 50 workers in the UK die, and 8,700 are seriously injured every year in falls from working at height.
Although the numbers are steadily falling with each year, many deaths and injuries from falls are eminently preventable.
At a recent exhibition held in the UK, inspectors from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) performed an announced, scheduled safety inspection during the construction phase of the event. As always, the HSE conducted its inspection cordially and professionally, but in the course of their observations, the inspectors became very concerned at the number of contractors working unsafely at height. The inspector we spoke to after the exhibition, who had been part of the inspecting team, estimated that there was ’70 per cent per cent actionable misuse’ among contractors working at height.
The inspectors were judging contractors against the HSE’s regulations, and any contractors found operating outside the guidelines were counselled on working safely at height and given a HSE contact card. As in previous exhibition and event inspections the HSE inspectors were more concerned with raising awareness of working at height than instigating any formal proceedings, and none of the ‘actionable failings’ that they observed were taken any further. The HSE has been very supportive in this respect.
Nevertheless, a 70 per cent incidence of unsafe working at height is a very concerning figure. Some gentle probing revealed that the overwhelming majority of infringements were made by non-ESSA members, but that shouldn’t be the cause of any complacency.
Think about your own personnel, working at height, at an exhibition or event tomorrow. Would their normal practice pass an unannounced HSE inspection? If there is any doubt in your mind whatsoever, and indeed even if there isn’t, it’s worth refreshing your memory of the HSE’s essential guidance on the subject here - www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg401.pdf. If you have the time and inclination, the full 2006 Work At Height Regulations (WAHR 2006), are available here - www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/735/contents/made.
For event suppliers and contractors, the regulations stipulate straightforward and common sense practice, but without regularly revisiting them, it’s easy for unsafe practices to creep in over time. Compliance with the regulations shouldn’t compromise your speed or efficiency, and in many cases merely requires the personnel involved to be properly trained and advised on the use of ladders and stepladders.
This isn’t a wake up call – I believe we’re all very aware of what is required, but the sheer number of transgressions at the exhibition mentioned above should serve as an important reminder that, until now, the industry has been permitted an adjustment period. However we believe that the HSE will now lean increasingly towards enforcement and sanctions for transgressions, rather than advice and counselling. The HSE will continue to conduct its inspections, both announced and unannounced, but the ‘bedding in’ period, allowed for the industry to accommodate CDM 2015, is essentially at an end.
In preparation for this shift, the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) is working with its sister associations, the Association of Event Venues (AEV) and the Association of Event Organisers (AEO) on an industry-wide campaign to drive awareness of safety and working at height in particular. We want to continue to build a robust, safety-first, working culture in events, and I sincerely hope that all ESSA members will lend their support and help to spread this message.