U.K.: Cell Phone Use at Heights Could Have a Dangerous Ring

Reaching for a cell phone or a cup of tea could jeopardize the safety of tradespeople working at heights even if they're working at relatively low heights.

That's why celebrity do-it-yourself guru Tommy Walsh and the U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are teaming up to raise awareness of the dangers faced by people who work at relatively low heights.

A survey of 150 tradepeople, who were questioned on behalf of the HSE at a recent building exhibition, reveals that one in three admit to putting their safety at risk by answering their mobile phones while working below head height.

The same proportion of people routinely overreach to avoid moving their ladders during low-level work, and one in seven of those surveyed even admit to reaching dangerously to pick up a cup of tea on the job, according to the survey.

"Reaching down from a ladder to answer a phone is asking for trouble," said Walsh, who became famous after appearing the BBC gardening show "Ground Force" from 1998-2005. "My advice would be to stop putting yourself in danger for the sake of a phone call. Even if you're not that high off the ground, a simple fall could see you ending up in plaster or worse. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of this issue, and it makes absolute sense to take your safety seriously."

The HSE survey also indicates that tradespeople routinely underestimate the risks associated with working below head height, believing it to be less dangerous than lifting heavy objects.

According to official HSE statistics, falling is the biggest cause of workplace fatalities. Last year, more than 3,700 major injuries were recorded from falls at workplaces across the United Kingdom, with six in 10 of those injuries coming as a result of working at below head height.

Over the same period, 53 people died falling from a height at work, with seven of those working below head height.

"The dangers involved in working at such low levels may seem less obvious to employees or small business owners which is why raising awareness of them is all the more important," HSE Chief Executive Geoffrey Podger said. "Falls are preventable when work is planned properly, the risks are accurately assessed and the correct equipment is used. Accidents cost businesses money, but for a smaller operator, it can cost you much more than that it could cost you your business. Worst of all for the individual it could cost them their life."

Nearly half of those questioned in the recent survey of tradespeople claimed to have nearly slipped or fallen in the past 3 months, highlighting the scale of the dangers facing people working at height.

For further information and to read about the business benefits of being height aware, visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/falls.

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