Making a difference to safety on-site

Managing director of Donaldson Timber Engineering (DTE), Jonathan Fellingham discusses the safety implications of working with trussed rafters

Timber roof trusses are large, heavy and require work at height. It’s safe to say that if guidelines are not adhered to, working with roof trusses can pose a number of serious risks to employees.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), figures for 2012/2013 show that the construction industry accounts for 27 per cent of fatal injuries to employees in Britain – the highest rate in any sector – and almost one in five of these deaths involves roof work. Falls from height are the biggest issue, causing more deaths and serious injuries than anything else. Again, roof work figures highly, as roofers account for 24 per cent of these falls – the biggest category of worker by far.

Interestingly, across the industry as a whole, there has been a significant reduction in the number of fatal injuries over the past decade, with fatalities at almost half what they were 20 years ago. This suggests that stronger safety regulation has had a positive impact. However, the percentage of fatal injuries due to falls from height has not decreased, with an alarming spike last summer. In total, 235 accidents were reported in the second quarter of 2013, with figures from the Building Safety Group (BSG) revealing that around 12 per cent of the incidents were falls from height; an increase of 60 per cent on the same period last year.

These statistics are very worrying – even more so when we consider the construction industry’s low output over the last few years. Given the reduced number of projects and people working in the industry, it would be a fair assumption that there should have been a decrease in accidents over this period; certainly not an increase. If these accidents are happening on sites when the industry is quiet, it is terrifying to think what could happen now that there is more demand and an added requirement to work quickly. This is something that must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Health and Safety regulation is of course essential and something which will already be in place at all reputable sites and businesses across the country. However, regulation is only effective if it is understood, implemented and enforced. Many of these accidents could have been avoided if simple precautions were taken and if strict health and safety policies were adhered to. As demand continues to increase we all need to be ensuring that suitable safety equipment is used, and that those doing the work are given adequate information and instruction with robust training, full supervision and ongoing assessment.

Safety solutions

The answer to this issue of safety is to develop solutions to reduce the risk, and to make sure that they are easy, sensible and practical. This could be with more off-site construction, or safety scaffolding systems.

Assessing how more of these solutions can be developed has taken place in recent months. One of the concerns was the growing demand for tall (higher than 2.5m) fink style trusses, which require stretching when fixing ridge bracing. Overstretching while working at height is incredibly dangerous, so ways to negate this requirement and make the procedure safer were looked at.

This hazard has been recognised, and many builders now request trusses with factory fitted plated timber cross bars between the central webs. The cross bars act as a platform to allow carpenters to reach the truss apex and nail the stability bracing safely. In order to make this system more practical a simple scaffold system has been developed, in conjunction with TRAD safety systems, which facilitates the safe on-site fixing of apex stability bracing on these trusses. Instead of pre-fitting permanent cross bars, an adjustable, reusable metal cross bar was created which can be used to suit any project and once the work is finished it can be removed and used again.

With such shocking statistics, the industry needs to work together to do all it can to prevent accidents in our industry. Making a difference in this area doesn’t need to be complicated – in fact, it has been found that the best solutions are often the simple ones. Let’s make sure that the uplift in work remains a positive, and not one that results in a much greater loss.