By Claire West

With 35 deaths and over 4,600 major injuries caused by falls from height at work in the UK last year1, Aviva - as part of its Simply Safety campaign — is urging businesses to ensure adequate care is taken when carrying out maintenance work on commercial premises this winter.

Aviva, the UK’s largest insurer, is warning individuals not to become complacent and to consider outsourcing jobs such as gutter cleaning wherever possible.

Phil Grace, liability risk manager at Aviva, says: “At this time of year, many businesses will be carrying out work such as gutter cleaning to prepare their properties for the onslaught of harsh weather over winter. Removing moss and other debris from blocked gutters plays a vital role in preventing water damage to buildings and tenants may be contractually obliged to ensure maintenance work takes place.

“Gutter cleaning may seem like routine maintenance work. However, working at height continues to be a major cause of death and injury at work, and it is important not to become complacent about the risks.

“Businesses may think they are saving on costs by carrying out the work in-house, but this can be a false economy. If there is no appropriately trained worker at a company, it is always advisable to outsource the work to a specialist contractor.

“Gutter cleaning is covered by the Work at Height Regulations 2005, which makes employers, the self-employed and any person supervising the work of others responsible for doing all they can to minimise risks. If there is an accident, the individual or business will be subject to an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive and could face heavy fines.”

In a recent example, City of London magistrates fined a Croydon firm almost £30,000 after an employee fell through a warehouse roof as he cleaned the gutters unsupervised at work. The 17 year old employee lost his spleen and broke his back, collarbone and pelvis in the accident after his employer failed to put appropriate safety measures in place2.

Grace continued: “If work must be undertaken in-house, there are a number of simple controls that can be put in place to minimise the risks of a person falling. Steps must be taken to both identify the risks involved in cleaning the gutters and choose the right equipment for the job.

“As the official guidance sets out, those in charge must first consider whether the work is to be carried out from a roof or ground level and then look to minimise the distance and consequence of a fall, should one occur.

“When the work is to take place from the roof there must be a safe means of access — with steps preferable to a ladder — and protection, such as guardrails or nets, put in place along the edge of roofs to stop people falling. Roof materials must be capable of carrying weight and skylights should be covered.

“If work is to be done from ground level, safe access must be arranged ideally using a cherry picker or scaffold tower. A ladder may be used if the work is of short duration.

“Ladders are involved in almost a quarter of all workplace falls from height3 so particular care must be taken to ensure the ladder is suitable and safely secured. Those working from ladders should maintain three points of contact at all times.

“In certain circumstances, personal protective equipment, such as a work restraint system, harness or lanyard, can be used. Debris must be bagged in small quantities and lowered slowly to the ground and workers should take frequent breaks.”
Grace concluded: “Above all, workers must be fully trained and competent to work at height. If this is not possible, maintenance work such as gutter cleaning must be outsourced to a specialist supplier.”

To download the Simply Safety factsheet visit: https://help.aviva.co.uk/resources/avivabroker/tools-and-templates/Simply_Safety_Gutter_Cleaning_Nov_2010