Working at height is a hazardous occupation, involving the risk of a fall that may result in serious injury to a member of the workforce. Certain industries are particularly susceptible to this type of risk and the utility industry is one of those. For this reason, the requirement that employees in the utility industry are adequately trained and that the appropriate protective equipment is provided is all the more important. In this article, we firstly consider what is meant by the “utility industry” and then demonstrate why working at height training and products are essential for its workers.
The generally accepted definition of the utility industry is an industry that comprises a range of public services that include the provision of electricity, gas, water and sewage, telecommunications and transport.
There are risks associated with each individual utility industry, the extent of which depends on the type of utility and the particular project. Whatever the particular circumstances may be, however, the general principle that a fall from height represents a real risk to the welfare of the workforce, should always be borne in mind. Here are some of the risks that are specific to individual industries.
Electricity: There are many hazardous occupations in the electricity industry. One need only look at the number and height of electric pylons in the country to understand the extreme heights at which members of the workforce are sometimes required to work at to carry out their responsibilities. The extent of the injuries that can be cased by a fall is all too obvious. Working in electric substations, sometimes in confined spaces where conventional fall protection equipment may not be available, also presents its own risks.
Gas: Working at height is not limited to working above ground. It also includes working in locations such as trenches, where a fall is equally likely to result in injury. One of the most common sites of a fall in the gas industry is into a trench where new pipes are being laid or repairs are being carried out.
Water and Sewage: As in the case of the gas industry, those who work in the water and sewage utilities are more likely to sustain injuries as a result of a fall below ground rather than from above. These industries often require their workers to carry out tasks in confined spaces, requiring a special kind of protective equipment and tailored training programmes.
Telecommunications: Many of the risks of working in the telecommunications industry are common to the other utilities. Not only do telecommunications workers frequently work at significant heights above ground, they are also required to work below ground.
Transport: There are a wide range of transport industries, most of which involve a degree of working from height. Loading and unloading of goods and produce, working in the air transport industry, many occupations in the shipping industry and the repair and maintenance of transport industry vehicles all carry with them the risk of working from height.
The level of risk associated with working in one of the utility industries should not be under estimated and the need to ensure that workers in those industries are protected from the risk of a fall - through the provision of the appropriate training and protective equipment – cannot be overstated.