Work at Height Risks
Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries.
Typically, falls from a height are responsible for ~25% of workplace fatalities in the UK. e.g. 35 of 142 fatalities in 2020/21.
Common causes are falls from ladders and through fragile roofs. The purpose of Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR) is to prevent death and injury from a fall from height.
This Safeti guide gives you a succinct overview of what you need to do, as an employer, to protect employees and others from falls from height.
Let’s get started by looking at the definition of work at height within the workplace context…
What is Work at Height?
Work at height means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.
For example you are working at height if you:
- are working on a ladder or a flat roof;
- could fall through a fragile surface;
- could fall into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.
Take a sensible approach when considering precautions for work at height. There may be some low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary and the law recognises this.
There is a misconception that ladders and stepladders are banned, but this is not the case. There are many situations where a ladder is the most suitable equipment for working at height.
3 Steps to Safe Work at Height
Before working at height you must work through these simple steps:
- Avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so;
- Where work at height cannot be avoided, prevent falls using either an existing
place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment;
- Minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of
equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated.
Tips for Managing Work at Height
Here are some managing work at height tips to consider when planning activities where falls from height may be a risk;
- do as much work as possible from the ground
- ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
- ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job
- make sure you don’t overload or overreach when working at height
- take precautions when working on/near fragile surfaces
- provide protection from falling objects
- consider emergency evacuation/rescue plan
Work at Height Legislation
If you are an employer or you control work at height (for example if you are a contractor or a factory owner) in the UK, the Working at Height Regulations apply to you.
Employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people.
This includes using the right type of equipment for working at height.
Take a sensible, pragmatic approach when considering precautions for work at
Factors to weigh up include;
- the height of the task;
- the duration and
- the condition of the surface being worked on
There will also be certain low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary.
You should make sure that people with sufficient skills, knowledge and experience are employed to perform the task, or, if they are being trained, that they work under the supervision of somebody competent to do it.
Competence for Managing Work at Height
In the case of low-risk, short duration tasks (short duration means tasks that take less than 30 minutes) involving ladders, competence requirements may be no more than making sure employees receive instruction on how to use the equipment safely (e.g. how to tie a ladder properly) and appropriate training.
Work at height training often takes place on the job, it does not always take place in a classroom.
When a more technical level of competence is required, for example drawing up a plan for assembling a complex scaffold. Existing training and certification schemes drawn up by trade associations and industry are one effective way to help demonstrate competence, alongside project-based experience.
Always consider measures that protect everyone who is at risk (collective protection)
before measures that protect only the individual (personal protection).
Collective protection is equipment that does not require the person working at height to act to be effective, for example a permanent or temporary guard rail.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal protection is equipment that requires the individual to act to be effective.
An example is putting on a safety harness correctly and connecting it, via an
energy-absorbing lanyard, to a suitable anchor point
Work at Height Hierarchy | The Flowchart
The step-by-step diagram (see our helpful Decision Tool post) below should be used alongside the other recommendations in this guide. You do not always need to implement every measure, of course.
For example when working on a fully boarded and guarded scaffold that is already up, not being altered or taken down, workers would not need to wear personal fall arrest equipment as well.
Hazards from Work at Height
Roof work is high risk and falls from roofs, through fragile roofs and fragile roof lights are one of the most common causes of workplace death and serious injury.
As well as in construction, these accidents can also occur on roofs of factories, warehouses
and farm buildings when roof repair work or cleaning is being carried out.
The following are likely to be fragile;
- roof lights
- liner panels on built-up sheeted roof
- non-reinforced fibre cement sheets
- corroded metal sheets
- glass (including wired glass)
- rotted chipboard
- slates and tiles
What to Consider when Working at Height
The following are all requirements in law that you need to consider planning and managing work at height.
You must do the following:
- take account of weather conditions that could compromise worker safety;
- check that the work area is safe before starting i.e. roof.
- stop materials or objects from falling or take suitable and sufficient measures to make sure no one can be injured, e.g. use exclusion zones to keep people away or mesh.
- store materials and objects safely so they won’t cause injury if they are disturbed or collapse;
- plan for emergencies and rescue, eg agree a set procedure for evacuation.
Selecting Work at Height Equipment
When selecting equipment for work at height, employers must:
- provide the most suitable equipment appropriate for the work (use Figure 1 to
help you decide);
- take account of factors such as:
- the working conditions (eg weather);
- the nature, frequency and duration of the work;
- the risks to the safety of everyone where the work equipment will be used
Installation, Use and Maintenance
Work equipment, for example scaffolding, needs to be assembled or installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Also, it should be done in a way that is in keeping with any specific industry guidelines that exist.
Any equipment exposed to conditions that may cause it to deteriorate, and result in a
dangerous situation, should be inspected at suitable intervals appropriate to the
environment and use. Do an inspection every time something happens that may affect
the safety or stability of the equipment, eg adverse weather, accidental damage.
You are required to keep a record of any inspection for types of work equipment
– guard rails, toe-boards, barriers or similar collective means of protection
– working platforms that are fixed (e.g. a scaffold around a building) or mobile (e.g. a mobile elevated working platform (MEWP) or scaffold tower);
– a ladder.
Inspecting Working Platforms
Any working platform used for construction work and from which a person could fall more than 2 metres must be inspected:
- after assembly in any position;
- after any event liable to have affected its stability;
- at intervals not exceeding seven days.
Where it is a mobile platform, a new inspection and report is not required every time it is moved to a new location on the same site.
You must also ensure that before you use any equipment, such as a MEWP, which has come from another business or rental company, it is accompanied by an indication (clear to everyone involved) when the last thorough examination has been carried out.
Employer and Employee Duties for Working at Height
Employees have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and
others who may be affected by their actions, and to co-operate with their employer
to enable their health and safety duties and requirements to be complied with.
For an employee, or those working under someone else’s control, the law says they must:
- report any safety hazard they identify to their employer;
- use the equipment and safety devices supplied or given to them properly, in
accordance with any training and instructions (unless they think that would be unsafe, in which case they should seek further instructions before continuing).
Employer’s must consult your employees in good time on health and safety matters. Issues you must consult employees on include:
- risks arising from their work
- proposals to manage and/or control these risks
- the best ways of providing information and training
Employers can and should ask employees and their representatives what they think the hazards are.
If they are already engaged in the activity, they may notice things that are not obvious and provide practical ideas on how to control the risks.
Work at Height Toolbox Talk
One of the most important things you can do to manage work at height risk, is to communicate the hazards to the workforce. Download our free Work at Height Toolbox Talk with our free H&S TBT download right HERE.
Final Thoughts on Work at Height...
The HSE’s key messages to duty holders are:
- Follow the risk assessments you have carried out for work at height activities and make sure all work at height is planned, organised and carried out by competent persons;
- Follow the hierarchy for managing risks from work at height – take steps to avoid, prevent or reduce risks; and
- Choose the right work equipment and select collective measures to prevent falls (such as guardrails and working platforms) before other measures which may only mitigate the consequences.