Falling from height is the biggest cause of death in the construction industry. And as trussed rafters are erected at height, the planning and implementation of a safe working method for handling, hoisting and fixing them is essential. Few would disagree, but the question of who takes responsibility for this aspect of site safety remains a grey area.

Whether the contractor erects the trusses or uses a supply and fix truss fabricator, responsibility for all safety on site remains that of the contractor.

But that does not mean truss fabricators should completely ignore the issue of site safety. He should be willing to help the contractor to develop a safe working method if asked. But, unless he is erecting the trusses as well, his responsibility is limited to supplying information on the weight of each truss type to help the contractor choose the right handling method and advising on unloading trusses, transporting and storing them on site.

Unloading problems

The truss fabricator has insufficient authority on site to carry liability beyond this.

Careless unloading of trusses off the lorry, for instance, has been the cause of several accidents, some of them severe. Here, responsibility is often misunderstood. It is clear to me that because the unloading of trusses from the fabricator’s lorry occurs on site, the process remains the responsibility of the contractor.

Trusses are loaded onto the lorry in a level yard and bundled together so the right trusses can be offloaded safely. The fundamental requirement on site is for the contractor to provide a similarly level hard-standing for the delivery lorry, appropriate equipment for offloading and, most importantly, competent labour to carry out the offloading process. The driver’s responsibility is limited to understanding how the trusses have been bundled and the weight of each truss type, and conveying this information to site staff.

Too often truss deliveries arrive on site to find uneven parking, no provision for mechanical off-loading and inadequate labour. The delivery driver, often a subcontracted haulier, is then faced with the invidious choice of observing – or even taking part in – unloading the trusses unsafely or driving off with his load. It is a brave driver who refuses to allow the trusses to be off-loaded but, if he does allow it, does he put his employer at risk of prosecution if an accident occurs?

The Trussed Rafter Association (TRA) is in discussion with the Health & Safety Executive to iron out dilemmas such as these. The TRA’s aim is to promote a greater understanding of safety risks relating to trusses on site and to formally resolve the division of responsibility between truss fabricator and contractors as an industry-wide accepted principle.

Working methods

Before making demands on the contractor, the TRA Health and Safety Committee has spent the past two years looking at its own industry’s working methods and production machinery. As heavy attic trusses became almost the industry norm, repetitive manual handling of completed trusses may cause a muscular-skeletal injury. Working with the TRA, the HSE has established weight and labour guidelines for manual handling trusses up to 95kg in weight and introduced an embargo on manual handling above this weight. This has led to the installation of cranes and automatic truss stackers at most TRA members’ factories.

The TRA has no power to compel truss plants to adopt safe machinery, working methods and truss handling equipment but it hopes that by establishing best practice systems the HSE will be assisted in policing the whole of the truss industry and not just TRA members.

The TRA Health and Safety Committee continues to address other issues. Dust has long been a problem in woodworking environments. Happily, most truss plants comply with the 5ppm maximum dust level regulation, but European legislation is moving towards far more stringent standards. The TRA is working with the HSE and saw manufacturers to identify changes to equipment that will reduce airborne dust further.

Another issue is the certification scheme for truss lorry drivers. If the trussed rafter industry is to demand more awareness from the contractor of the requirements for off-loading trusses, then truss fabricators must play their part by only using competent delivery drivers.