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Working from height

working from height

Demand for modern, quality homes in land-scarce urban areas has sparked a dramatic increase in multi-storey apartment buildings. Many of these have private balconies to give residents a sense of the outdoors – even if it’s just a few square metres.

Working from height - Offsite

Offsite-manufactured balconies are an increasingly popular specification, adding value to the high-rise apartment lifestyle. That also add visual appeal, with a wide choice of metal and glass components providing ample scope for architectural expression. Securely bolted to rigid support arms they are steady underfoot – and with appropriate thermal breaks in place they do not compromise thermal performance inside the building envelope.

Crucial to the success of these balconies in the first instance is the ability to install them without risking the safety of installation teams – or, in the longer term, the residents of the building.

Working from height - On-site

Building sites in any country are inherently dangerous, with potential risks increasing in step with structural height. Advanced countries have legislative protection for builders and other contractors ‘working at height’, but definitions are not always the same. For example, Canada defines height as more than 1.8 metres, but in the United Kingdom it’s just 600mm. Both countries require fall protection above their defined levels, but it’s a moot point whether either definition of ‘height' is the more appropriate – or more safe.

While a fall from 1.8 metres would most likely have more serious consequences than one from 600mm, it’s mostly the danger of falls from much greater heights that must be minimised to ensure the safety of building workers.

Working from height safely

Safety training programmes, required by law in the UK, Canada and many other countries, help to raise awareness of risks and how to work around them. But there is an ever-present threat of extreme weather conditions that could quickly turn a ‘safe’ building site into a major danger zone.

Weather extremes in Canada suggest that working at height in that country can be more difficult and dangerous than in the UK. Using a bolted-in harness may increase safety, but not necessarily by enough to make conditions ‘safe’. Recent more severe weather events in the UK may indicate a need for the local industry to pay greater attention to safety – even tho the point of curtailing building activity in extreme circumstances.

But where is the crucial line between ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’? It’s more sensible to regard everything as unsafe until proven otherwise – or adequately guarded by preventive measures.

Working from height across the globe

Both Canada and the UK require risk assessments to identify potential hazards – and the necessary measures to mitigate risk. This is part of the process to determine the correct equipment and fall protection for a particular task, as well as identifying proper work procedures. There is a shared commitment to improving on-site practices.

Construction professionals in both markets often engage in cross-border partnerships and attend international conferences to share best practice, research findings, and technological advances. Co-operation helps drive the development of new safety measures and promotes a global understanding of the importance of safety when working at height.

New technology to improve safety and efficiency at height is increasingly being adopted in both Canada and the UK. For example, drones are now widely used for site inspections, while Building Information Modelling (BIM) improves planning for higher-risk tasks and advanced fall protection systems contribute to a safer working environment.

Installation of offsite-built balconies is a good example of how this approach translates to a safe methodology, at any height. Complete balconies are simply craned into position and slid on to the support arms which are anchored in the concrete floor slab, inside the building envelope. Working safely from inside the building, the installer tightens the bolts that secure the balcony to the support arms. The final sections of decking are the fastened into place, after which the balcony is safe and ready for use.

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