Falls from a height are one of the leading causes of serious injury and death in the UK.
Working from height can be extremely dangerous and can pose a safety risk to staff and the public. As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring the safety of individuals who are working from height by carrying out the necessary risk assessments and implementing the appropriate safety precautions.
There are many reasons why health and safety shouldn’t be considered an impractical burden, but instead a foundation on which you build and grow a successful company. We talk through the key considerations when working from height, what the regulations state and what to do to avoid injury.
What Is Working at Height?
Working at height comprises any work which is carried out from a height which is high enough to cause injury if an individual falls. This includes but is not limited to: working above ground level, working on a fragile surface or working close to an opening in the floor.
Working from height does not cover walking up and down a staircase in the line of your work – it only governs work carried out at a height.
Who Should Be Working at Height?
When employing someone to work from height, the individual will need to possess the appropriate skills, experience and knowledge required for the work. Workers should be fully trained on safety procedures and using the correct safety equipment required for the job. Some roles may require specific certifications, this is mainly for tasks that require a certain level of knowledge or further technical skills.
Who Governs Working From Height?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) oversees implementation of The Work at Height Regulations 2005, which was brought about to prevent death and injury caused by falls from height. They outline the duty of care employers, building owners and others have in regards to their employees or people who use their premises for work and set up guidelines and procedures that should be followed.
HSE has a wealth of information online to guide employees and it’s worth visiting their website for more information. You can also contact them directly if you would like advice on carrying out risk assessments or other aspects of ensuring employees are protected when working from height.
Employees are also required by law to take reasonable care of themselves and carry out their work in such a way as to limit the chance of injury to others. They are also legally obliged to comply with an employers’ processes and procedures that are designed to ensure the employer meets their legislative requirements.
All work at height must be fully risk-assessed. It should be carried out following careful planning and with ongoing supervision and should only be undertaken by trained, competent workers. Employers must also take care to ensure that any equipment used is appropriate for the job, is regularly maintained and is repaired or replaced should it become outdated or defective.
What Are The Regulations?
Working from height regulations state that employers must ensure all height work is properly planned before being carried out and that individuals tasked with the work should be properly trained or experienced in doing so. Appropriate equipment and PPE should be provided and risk assessments should also be carried out.
Please refer to the further information found on The Work at Height Regulations 2005 before carrying out any height work.
Can It Be Avoided?
When assessing the risk, HSE recommends the first step, which is to assess whether working from height can be avoided. If there are safer alternatives or work can be carried out from the ground then this needs to be considered first and foremost. This may include assembly at ground level or using extendable equipment.
If working from height cannot be avoided, then steps need to be taken in order to prevent falls from happening or minimise the distance of a fall if it does occur. This should be carried out by using the correct equipment and the current location which has already been deemed safe enough to carry out the work.
Assess The Dangers
When working from height, what are the potential areas of danger? You will need to consider a number of elements which pose a risk to individuals, including location, materials and number of individuals present. This may differ depending on the work you are planning or organising.
Use Appropriate Equipment
There are a number of different types of working from height safety equipment, but you should always use the appropriate safety equipment designed specifically for the job in hand. The height at which you are working as well as the risks it entails will determine what kind of equipment you should be using.
Equipment should be properly maintained, stored and checked regularly to ensure it is in good working order. Faulty, broken or outdated equipment should be reported and replaced immediately and should not be used.
As well as safety equipment, safety clothing including PPE may also be required when working from height. You must ensure workers are wearing the correct safety garments, whilst also making sure that the PPE is properly maintained and updated when necessary.
Plan For Emergencies
In the event of an emergency, you should plan appropriate action and carry out test drills to ensure employees are aware of what the procedure is. Consider any potential dangers in which an emergency event could occur and plan appropriately. Include your first aiders and fire safety officers in your emergency plans.
Anyone working from height must be properly trained on the correct way of working from height and aware of the dangers at risk. Training should be carried out for any new employees and conducted regularly to ensure all staff are kept up to date on the proper procedures and regulations.
Before any height work is carried out, you should always assess the current weather conditions. Some weather may compromise safety for individuals or cause a potential hazard. Rainwater and ice could result in a slippery surface, so you may need to make alternative arrangements if the weather conditions create further safety risks when working from height.
Myths Around Working From Height
There are a number of myths surrounding the laws around working from height. Many of these myths centre around outright bans on using ladders on construction sites or around the use of ladders (a prevalent one being that you must have two feet and one hand on the ladder at all times).
In actual fact, the law is much more flexible than this and instead gives clear guidelines on the use of ladders on sites, including the types of ladders. Workers do not need to be “qualified” to work at height, they just need to be competent. The meaning of this varies by industry but it usually involves having had some training for the work and otherwise having the skills, knowledge and experience to carry out the work – a common sense approach is valued.
This is a very brief overview of the working from height safety information provided by HSE. Please make sure you are fully aware of all information provided. This can be found in the HSE Working at Height Guide. The Work at Height Access equipment Information Toolkit (WAIT) was developed to help employers understand the issues around working and height and help them to choose the safest access equipment for the task at hand.
However, be aware that WAIT does not cover specialist types of working, so scaffolding or rope access techniques are not covered, and neither are other specialist types of access equipment.
For those types of equipment, advice is available online:
- Roof work: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/hsg33.htm
- Rope access techniques: https://www.irata.org/
- Specialist access equipment: https://accessindustryforum.org.uk/
Once you are familiar with the guidance, make sure you have the appropriate height work safety equipment, which we can provide here at Equip4work. For advice on choosing height work equipment, speak to our team, who can advise on all of our products, including ladders, forklift safety cages, harnesses and more.