When picturing work at height, most people imagine workers on roofs, on scaffolding or at the top of a long single-section ladder. In fact, ‘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.

In the garden centre environment, work at height is typically experienced by staff working on the back of lorries or staff working off ladders or steps to stock shelves, put up displays, signage or even changing light bulbs.

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 garden centres are not immune!

Avoid, Plan, Organise, Train and Use Correct Equipment:

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 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.

What not to do!

A classic example of ‘what not to do’ is an employee standing on a chair or desk to change a lightbulb, refill the coffee machine, write on the cafe menu board 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!

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.

  • First, stop and consider whether you have chosen the correct ladder for the job. Ladders used in the work environment should conform to  Class 1 (BS203) or Class 2 (BSEN131). Make sure the ladder can be positioned on level ground and that it is long enough. Airline style ladders and A-frame ladders should be used in preference to single section ladders wherever possible.

  • Next, undertake a visual check of 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. If needed, clean any grease or dirt off of the rungs or steps before use.

  • Check the tread on your boots to ensure that they are in good condition. Low or damaged tread is likely to increase the risk of a slip on the ladder rungs or steps. Dirty soles such as those contaminated with oil or soil may also increase the risk of a slip. Highlight any problem with your footwear to your manager.

  • Consider the weather conditions and 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.

  • Remember to take care if someone is footing or below the ladder as they could be injured by falling stock. You may need to cordon off the area below where you are working.

  • 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.

  • When you climb any ladder always ensure that you maintain 3 points of contact on the ladder at all times and 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

  • Check that your footwear is suitable – you should be wearing safety shoes. Check the tread on the boots to ensure that they are in good condition and that the soles are not contaminated with oil that may increase the risk of a slip.
  • Always ensure you have a safe method of accessing the vehicle such as via an appropriate ladder, steps or by using 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.
  • 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

  • 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.
  • Make sure you can see what you are doing and that the lighting levels are suitable.
  • Wherever possible, make sure that the vehicle back is free of trip hazards such as bearers, load, straps and packaging materials before getting onto the vehicle, and always make sure you have put your hard hat with restraining device on. Do not remove this until you are back on the ground.
  • Don’t get distracted by engaging in conversations while you are on the back of the lorry – always get down first.
  • Never have your back to the edge of the trailer if you are within 1 metre of it. Never walk backwards on the back of a lorry – always face the direction you are walking in. This applies to sweeping –  always facing in the direction you sweep, and sweep forwards with the broom handle to the side of your body. 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.