‘Work at height’ for many builders merchant staff is simply part of the job – working on the back of a lorry,  working from a forklift truck man cage, working from a mezzanine or working off a ladder or steps to stock shelves, put up promotional displays, signage or even changing light bulbs. By definition, in The Work at Height Regulations, ‘work at height’ means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. Because of this, even a silly as it sounds, standing on the bottom step of a step ladder is classed as working at height, as it could result in a fall from one level to a lower level.

Falls from height remain the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of major injury. For this reason, it remains a top priority area for Health and Safety Inspectors, and builders merchants are not immune!

Key considerations :

Before your staff undertake any work at height, ask yourself if they need to do it this way. Work at height should be avoided wherever possible. Failing that, all work at height should be properly planned and organised, with those involved competent for the task. Employees should be trained or instructed in safe ways of working at height, from completing a simple e-learning training module in ‘work at height’ on Safety Cloud, to training in your safe systems of work for particular equipment. Any equipment used for work at height needs to be suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly.

Practical Top Tips for Employees using Ladders:

A third of all reported fall-from-height accidents involve ladders. On average, this accounts for 14 deaths and 1,200 major injuries to workers every year. Many of these injuries are caused by inappropriate or incorrect use of the equipment – which can be easily avoided using the following steps.

  1. Type of ladder – ladders used in the merchant environment should conform to  Class 1 (BS203) or Class 2 (BSEN131). Airline style ladders and A-frame ladders should be used in preference to single section ladders wherever possible. Make sure the ladder can be positioned on level ground and that it is long enough.

  2. Visually check the ladder – make sure it is stable by ensuring that all the feet are present and when gripped and moved lightly that it does not wobble. Check that the rungs or steps are undamaged and clean.

  3. PPE – check the tread on your boots to ensure that they are in good condition and free from oil or soil contamination. Highlight any problem with your footwear to your manager.

  4. Consider the environment – do not use a ladder in high winds. Also, be aware of your surroundings – there may be other hazards such as swing doors, which should be locked or guarded off and moving vehicles or pedestrians.

  5. Cordon off the area – if someone is footing the ladder or pedestrians can not be excluded from the area.

  6. Footing – if you do need to use a single section ladder this may have to be footed. The ladder should be positioned one metre out for every 4 metres up. The ladder should be long enough to prevent standing on the top three rungs.

  7. Maintain 3 points of contact on a ladder at all times – never overreach or overstretch. The third point of contact should be a hand gripping the ladder frame and not an arm slung through a rung.

Practical Top Tips for Employees Working on the Back of Lorries

When working on the back of a lorry, you first need to consider whether you actually need to access the lorry bed or whether you are you able to work from ground level. For example, can you move bearers from the back of the lorry while standing on the ground?

Accessing the parked vehicle

  1. Check that your footwear is suitable –  check the tread on your safety boots to ensure that they are in good condition and free from oil or soil contamination.

  2. Employ a safe method of accessing the vehicle – use an appropriate ladder, steps or use correct footholds and handholds. Never jump and never use mudguards, bumpers or hooks to access the vehicle. Check the access method is in good condition – not greasy, or icy in Winter months.

  3. Three points of contact – should be maintained at all times when accessing the vehicle bed. Make sure your third point of contact is your hand gripping – do not just loop your arm through the rung.

Before you climb onto the vehicle bed

  1. Conduct visual Checks – before you climb onto the vehicle bed, check that it is not damaged or contaminated with water, diesel, oil, mud or ice which may make it slippery. Make sure you report broken boards and any other objects that could cause a fall.

  2. Lighting levels – make sure you can see what you are doing and that the lighting levels are suitable.

  3. Remove trip hazards – Wherever possible, make sure that the vehicle back is free from trip hazards such as bearers, load, straps and packaging materials before getting onto the vehicle.

  4. Wear a hard hat with restraining device – do not remove this until you are back on the ground.

  5. Don’t get distracted by engaging in conversations while you are on the back of the lorry – always get down first.

  6. Never walk backwards on the back of a lorry – always face the direction you are walking in. Never have your back to the edge of the trailer if you are within 1 metre of it. This applies to sweeping –  always facing in the direction you sweep, and sweep forwards with the broom handle to the side of your body.

  7. Standing on the product should be avoided as far as possible – you should never stand on any product which is not securely strapped into place or liable to shift.

Practical Top Tips for Employees Working on Mezzanine Levels

  1. Remove any tripping hazards, like packaging debris, and check the area is clear of other workers, prior to opening the gate or rail.

  2. Once opened, keep away from the unguarded edge and as soon as the stock has been moved onto or off the mezzanine, ensure that gate or rails are closed immediately. Gates and rails should never be left open unattended.

  3. Follow any safe system of work that is in place and never enter an unguarded area during load delivery or removal.

Common Builders Merchant Mistakes to avoid!

After over a decade of working with builders merchants across the country, the following common ‘work at height’ mistakes are definitely ones to avoid:

Climbing on bulk bags – Staff should never climb items that are not designed to be used for access, including bulk bags. A stick or similar can be used to open the tunnels on a bulk bag for the lift truck to lift, if they can’t reach from ground level.

Climbing on racking – Staff should never climb on racking to retrieve stock even if it just involves stepping on the bottom level of the racking. A step ladder or other suitable means of access should be used to retrieve the stock.

Climbing on timber – Staff should never climb on timber stacks to retrieve timber lengths from racking. Timber stacks can be very unstable. Move the entire stack to ground level by using a lift truck, then manually retrieve individual lengths.

Standing on chairs or desks – Staff should never stand on a chair or desk to change a lightbulb, refill the coffee machine, or decorate the Christmas tree. It goes without saying, a lightweight and easily-accessible A-frame stepladder (Class 1 or Class 2) with top rail hand-hold, would be more appropriate!