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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.

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