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Loft work and access issues

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QUESTION: 

I work for a cavity wall & loft insulation firm. I work on my own fitting loft insulation. I use a normal ladder to access the lofts. The ladder is not tied on or fixed. I have to move around the loft which contains trip hazards ie beams. The loft floor is obviously fragile. I have to carry the lofting packs up the ladder and push them through the loft hatch, sometimes needing to use both hands.

I occasionally do the loft insulation in 'void' houses where there is no one else present. Are there any regulation regarding working alone at height?

ANSWER:

There is no specific work at height regulation governing working alone, but an employer has a duty of care to look after the health and safety of his employees whilst they are at work, and must undertake a risk assessment to determine suitable and sufficient measures required to deliver this.

A link to another HSE website gives some more information at  http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/faqs/workalone.htm

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 place a duty on the employer to ensure that work at height is properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner which is so far as is reasonably practicable safe.

In order to do this he must carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, both generic for known common problems, and then refined by a site specific one, to highlight what measures need to be taken in order to make this work operation as safe as possible.

Particularly, if working on his own, the worker needs a system whereby he can summon assistance if he becomes ill or injured. Part of safe working at height and also a requirement under the Regulations is for the employer planning the work to include for emergencies and rescue.

There are obvious risks when entering a loft space and the aim is to eliminate or reduce the risk of an incident arising from the various hazards encountered.

In this instance the hazard is an unknown, possibly dark loft, with potentially a fragile surface, to which access needs to be gained at height. To enter the loft you would need to ensure that the method is safe and the equipment stable when moving off the access equipment into the loft.

You certainly need a handhold with the loft space to use to prevent falling whilst entering the space. Full use of ladders and step ladders can be found on our website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/falls/ladders.htm

then select "Further reading" INDG402 - Safe use of ladders and stepladders [PDF 318kb].

When considering the most appropriate access equipment to gain entry to a loft, a tied ladder will be more stable than a step ladder. A combination ladder will also suffice. 

The employer's risk assessment needs to decide upon the most suitable work equipment taking into account amongst other things, the ease of transport, erection, frequency of use, height to be accessed, physical access to below the loft and size of loft hatch, and the materials to be got into the loft.

Before entering the loft you need adequate artificial light to illuminate where you are entering. There are a variety of rechargeable lights on the market that negate the need for a power supply. Also there will be no trailing lead which would be a potential tripping hazard.

When considering entering the loft space you will need to ensure that you are not able to fall between the floor joists.

Confining yourself to walking along the joists, and especially if they are hidden under loft insulation, does not provide a safe method to minimise the risk of a fall through a plasterboard ceiling, should you miss the joist on any one step.

Some form of temporary boarding is needed to cover the gaps between the joists. There is a variety of safety decking available. A good example is concertina style load bearing safety decking that can be passed up through the loft opening and then can be expanded out when in the loft to extend over the joists.

Ideally any decking or safety boards ought to be secured to the joists so that they do not slip when walked upon. Ideas on supply can be gleaned from a web search on void or hatchway deck, or safety decking.

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