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Design webinar: Safety statistics prompt search for better fall protection

With fatal injuries from falls four times higher in construction, experts from HSE, AHMM and MSA Safety looked at the industry’s regulations and culture, identifying a need for robust protection to be integrated in building design

The UK design and construction industry has been ‘deregulating, relaxing and gaming the fire safety and health and safety regulations’ for too long, says Paul Bussey, chair of a highly informative RIBA Journal webinar setting out the duties of architects regarding fall protection design. It’s now time, he adds, for a major culture change. 

‘Principal designers have a significant role in ensuring robust fall protection in building design,’ he says, citing the recent introduction of the Building Safety Act (2022), which supplements HSE Guidance and the CDM Regulations (2015). 

The need to design with safety in mind was underlined by some shocking safety statistics set out by the first speaker, Bernardine Cooney, head of the Regulatory Support Unit, Building Safety and Construction Division, at the Health and Safety Executive. A recent fatal injury rate of 1.63 per 100,000 workers in construction is around four times the all-industry rate. Falls from height were by far the biggest cause, accounting for just over half the 40-45 fatalities per year. They also accounted for 19% of non-fatal injuries.

Much more remains to be done to nip ‘totally unacceptable’ risks of working at height in the bud, said Cooney, by evaluating these risks early in the design process, and tapping into the right resources.

‘You are probably already [doing that], but I’d urge you to hold onto the fact that your design can influence reduction in serious and fatal injuries,’ she said.

In her presentation, Cooney covered client and designer duties under the CDM regulations (‘a net that’s designed to capture risk’) and the more prescriptive Work at Height Regulations (2005), which require the avoidance of risk to ensure persons do not fall a distance that could cause personal injury. 

‘Work at Height risks are so readily foreseeable that they should be in the forefront of our thoughts in all work activity,’ she said. 

Under CDM 9, the designer’s role is to eliminate foreseeable risks, and where these can’t be eliminated, take steps to reduce or control the risk by design. They must also provide information to help others do this, facilitating those implementing their design. Taking steps to avoid risks during the design phase, reduces them during subsequent construction, maintenance and cleaning.

She advocated use of the well-known ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’ health and safety approach to assess the strengths and weaknesses for Work at Height in the design as it evolves. Architects should question everything through this lens, from their choice of fragile surfaces, for example, to the use of temporary works, and implications of vehicle movements.

MSA safety specification manager Stuart Pierpoint spoke next, on the complexities of fall protection in buildings that require access – for example, to green roofs, brown roofs or PV arrays, or for window cleaning. Safe access for maintenance should again be considered early in the design process, eliminating risk where possible in order to guard hazards and protect the workers.


MSA Latchways Constant Force Post engineered fall protection system.
MSA Latchways Constant Force Post engineered fall protection system.

He set out the two choices for personal fall protection – fall restraint and fall arrest. Restraint uses a full body harness and a lanyard anchored via a lifeline to the building or structure, and keeps the user from accessing fall hazards. Where encountering hazards can’t be eliminated, a fall arrest system, again involving a harness and lanyard, but with a rescue plan and training too, ensures that should a fall occur, the user is suspended in their harness. Pierpoint showed ridge and perimeter scenarios and discussed the BS EN 795 standard for anchor devices, in particular the Type C anchors used for horizontal lifelines.

Paul Bussey recommended guidance from Designers’ Initiative on Health and Safety (DIOHAS), including advice on what is deemed unforeseeable. Contractors should be expected to implement normal procedures competently – it’s not the remit of designers to tell them what to do. However, designers need to eliminate hazards so far as is reasonably practicable, reduce risks from those hazards which remain, and provide adequate information – ideally clear and visual – about any significant project-specific risks, such as fragile rooflights for example. 

Bussey also shared best practice case studies, including fall restraint measures for accessing the rotating globe on the English National Opera House’s Coliseum building in London.

Viewer questions covered the need to adhere to safe working at height practices even on small domestic projects, use of Building Maintenance Units, and issues regarding rope and ladder access.

Summing up, Bussey referred to the need to make proportionate and practicable design decisions using project specific optioneering techniques, and the need to identify safe systems for working at height for both construction and maintenance. Industry-wide expertise should be consulted if required: ‘It’s a team process,’ he concluded. ‘It’s not something you just do on your own.’ 


Paul Bussey (webinar chair), senior technical consultant, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Bernardine Cooney, head of Regulatory Support Unit, Building Safety and Construction Division (BSCD), Health and Safety Executive
Stuart Pierpoint, specification manager, MSA Safety


This RIBAJ event was produced in association with MSA



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