Domestic falls from height

Preventing falls from height at home

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Domestic falls from height

Many of the jobs we undertake around the house and garden are done at height and pose the very real risk of a fall and injury. In fact, it’s estimated that between 105,000 and 420,000 falls from height happen in the home every year. What can we do to keep ourselves safe?

Written by Ray Cooke, Former Principal Inspector, HSE

I think that one thing many people do not yet fully appreciate is that the No Falls Foundation addresses all falls from height. As such this means it covers all aspects of falls and not just those in the workplace. This is particularly important as there are far more falls from height in domestic (accidents at home) situations than occur at work.

It’s difficult to be certain on the number of domestic falls from height as there is no clear co-ordinated way in which they are reported in the UK. There’s no legal requirement (such as RIDDOR in work situations) for reporting, though estimates might be made from information such as the Labour Force Survey. If you search online for domestic falls from height statistics, you inevitably find lots of information for work related accidents and for domestic falls on the level by the elderly.

I’ve heard various estimates for domestic falls from height, and these vary from 10 times greater than work related falls, up to 40 times greater.

HSE accident statistics for fatal falls are generally regarded as pretty accurate. In 2020/21 there were 35 fatal falls from height incidents. However, HSE acknowledge that it only receives around 50% of RIDDOR reports for specified (aka major) and >7-day injuries. They base this on information derived from the Labour Force Survey.

If this is accurate then, extrapolating from HSE data, that means somewhere between 105,000 and 420,000 domestic falls from height injuries a year. Not all will result in a hospital visit but I imagine many do, so that is an incredible burden on the NHS, let alone the cost to those suffering the injury and their families. How many of us take out insurance that covers us in such a way that when we injure ourselves at home it won’t adversely affect our earnings, our mortgage and our other bill payments. And how many consider the emotional impact an injury to us might have on our friends and family.   

Many people I know or have met down the years simply take the attitude that it’ll never happen to me, yet these accidents statistics for people undertaking tasks at home, at height really do suggest we need to change that way of thinking.

How many of us simply reach for the ladder/stepladder and just get on with things, often in the way we always have?  

Rather than just getting on with it, take some time to think things through. It makes far more sense to make sure you plan any work at height activity to get it right in the first place. And that starts with questioning two things:

  1. Is it necessary to do the task at height, or might it be possible to do it in another way? For example, I use a telescopic pole pruner to prune large shrubs/hedges, trees, rather than working from a stepladder.
  2. Am I capable of doing the task at height or should I be getting in a professional to do it for me? In many instances we do not own the right equipment to undertake a task safely. For example, if I have any problems with the roof on my house, I call in a roofing specialist.

But how can you make a properly informed decision on this? In the same way that it is difficult to find statistics online for domestic falls from height, so too it is hard to find advice and guidance aimed specifically at domestic tasks. However, although you are not ‘at work’ when you undertake tasks at home it makes a huge amount of sense to read and follow guidance that is aimed at work situations.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a huge amount of very helpful advice and guidance on its website as do the various members of the Access Industry Forum, the organisation for the main trade bodies representing industries associated with work at height. The latter also provide links to their members, so you should be able to find one locally.

So many of the jobs we undertake around the house and garden (painting and decorating, minor repairs, pruning, etc) are done at height and pose the very real risk of a fall and injury. So why not check how the professionals are supposed to do it and follow that? A little bit of planning, before you start the task, can make a huge difference in undertaking it safely.   

Ray Cooke

Ray Cooke

Ray recently retired after 35 years with the Health and Safety Executive, finishing his career as Principal Inspector in charge of the construction division’s sector safety team.

Copyright 2022 No Falls Foundation l All rights reserved l Registered Charity Number 1177494

Slips, trips and falls – behaviour and culture

Slips, trips and falls - behaviour and culture

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Slips, trips and falls – behaviour and culture

This short article makes the case that slips and falls are just as much a behavioural and cultural issue as any other and that the basic model of sound systems, pro-active objective learning and empowering the workforce certainly applies.

Written by Dr Tim Marsh, a world authority on behavioural safety, safety leadership and organisational culture

Two illustrations as to just how important the issue is. First, almost everyone in safety knows that Piper Alpha claimed the lives of 167 men but fewer know that, over the years more off-shore workers have been killed in falls than in all the process safety issues combined. (There are lots of stairs and they are often wet).  Second, statistically, gravity is just about the most dangerous thing on the planet. (It’s very difficult to name a famous person who has made the papers for having a serious accident where the expression ‘fall’ doesn’t feature. Think Christopher Reeve, Rick Mayall, Rod Hull … )

Systems.

I talked to an HSE inspector who’d been asked to look into a fatal fall at a nightclub. The man was drunk but also truculent and they wanted his view on how likely a fall was. They were concerned that an annoyed bouncer might have pushed the man down the stairs. What he found was that the stairs were badly lit, steep, slippery even before slopped beer, had steps of differing sizes promoting the odd ‘air’ step and the handrails were so small as to be merely decorative. ‘In truth I’m surprised this is the first serious fall’ was his verdict … and of course it wasn’t at all. Indeed, there had been another fatal fall just the year before though his “entirely accidental’ one seen by others.

In short, getting the basics right is always step one and in this example the club were about as far from a ‘culture of care’ for their customers as it’s possible to get.

Learning.

The learning points in the above case study are self-evident but often they’re more subtle. A job organised so that items have to be carried up and down stairs. Harnesses that are difficult to use or long reported leaks that make surfaces slippery. In my book ‘A Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety’ I make the case that at its best BBS encompasses the essence of Carol Dweck’s famous learning mind-set. What can / does go wrong? Why? What do we need to do about it?

Transformational Leadership.

Is, in essence, all about communicating clearly, coaching not telling, praising not criticising and knowing that we’re all leading by example all the time whether we want to be or not – so we may as well do it well. Impactful signs reminding people to “hold the handrail” don’t hurt but they help far less than making the handrail easy to hold. ‘Catching a person doing something safe’ and praising them is proven to be about 10 to 20 times as effective at promoting behaviour change as criticising them. However, I’d argue, neither is as effective as the senior management always holding the handrail on the stairs or the foreman always clipping on. It also makes any censure fairer and nothing undermines trust faster than a perception of unfairness. (Trust is perhaps the key metric for an organisations empowerment level).  

Finally, good coaching is about treating people like adults and using data to illustrate a point. So, for example, you could say to someone on an off-shore rig. “Did you know that the chance of falling if you’re not holding the handrail is about 100,000 to 1 so if you’re lucky you can work an entire career never holding the handrail and never falling … but … these stairs on this platform are used about a million times a year so if none of us hold the handrail we’ll have about 10 accidents a year give or take, if 90% hold the handrails then an accident once a year give or take … but if 99% hold the handrail then we’ll only have one incident every ten years or so … and whilst we’re talking did you know that more people have been killed in falls off shore than in all the process safety accidents combined? …’

In short, the most effective cultural and behavioural techniques and principles apply as much to trips and falls as to any other safety issue. Indeed, with gravity just about the number one accident risk factor there is … arguably even more so!

About the author... Dr Tim Marsh

About the author... Dr Tim Marsh

Tim Marsh was one of the team leaders of the original UK research into behavioural safety (in construction) in the early 1990s. He is considered a world authority on the subject of behavioural safety, safety leadership and organisational culture, was awarded a “President’s Commendation” in 2008 by the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management and was selected to be their first ever ‘Specialist Fellow’ in 2010. He was made visiting Professor at Plymouth University in 2015.

He has given key note talks around the world including the closing key note at the inaugural Campbell Institute ‘International Thought Leaders’ conference (Dallas, USA, 2014 as well as key note talks at major conferences in South Africa, New Zealand, Asia, India and the Middle East. In 2016 he was the key note speaker at the inaugural NEBOSH Alumni event.

Founder of Ryder Marsh Safety he has worked commercially with more than 500 major organisations around the world, including many international oil and gas, utility, chemical, transport, IT and manufacturing organisations as well as the European Space Agency, the BBC, the National Theatre and Sky. Founded Anker & Marsh in 2018 with Jason Anker to focus more closely on wellbeing and mental health issues.

His work as an expert witness includes the Cullen Inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove train crash (Definition of Culture; Changing Culture) as well as with many law firms.

He has worked with media such as the BBC (radio work and selecting and fronting a box set of their “disaster” series) and has written and produced many training videos such as “Drive Smarter” and the extensive “Safety Leadership” series with Baker-media and ‘Crash Course’ (a commercial spin off of the Staffordshire Police speed and safe driving awareness course). He features in “There’s Always a Reason” and “Safety Watch”.

He has written dozens of magazine articles, many academic articles and the books “Affective Safety Management”, “Talking Safety”, “Total Safety Culture”, “Safety Savvy”, “A Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety” and “A Handbook of Organised Wellbeing”.

“Talking Health Safety and Wellbeing – Building an Empowering Culture in a Post Covid World” published in October 2021.

Copyright 2022 No Falls Foundation l All rights reserved l Registered Charity Number 1177494