Falls from height were the cause of most work-related fatalities in Britain during 2020/21.The latest annual figures (2020/21) revealed that 35 workers were killed in falls from height last year.
What is 'work at height'?
Work at height means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. You are working at height if you:
- work above ground/floor level
- could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or
- could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground
Work at height does not include a slip or a trip on the level, as a fall from height has to involve a fall from one level to a lower level, nor does it include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building.
Considering the risks associated with work at height and putting in place sensible and proportionate measures to manage them is an important part of working safely. Follow this simple step-by-step guide to help you control risks when working at height.
Can you avoid working at height in the first place?
Do as much work as possible from the ground. Some practical examples include:
- using extendable tools from ground level to remove the need to climb a ladder
- installing cables at ground level
- lowering a lighting mast to ground level
- ground level assembly of edge protection
If no - Can you prevent a fall from occurring?
You can do this by:
- using an existing place of work that is already safe,eg a non-fragile roof with a permanent perimeter guardrail or, if not
- using work equipment to prevent people from falling
Some practical examples of collective protection when using an existing place of
- a concrete flat roof with existing edge protection, or guarded mezzanine floor, or plant or machinery with fixed guard rails around it
Some practical examples of collective protection using work equipment to prevent a fall:
- mobile elevating work platforms(MEWPs) such as scissor lifts
- tower scaffolds
An example of personal protection using work equipment to prevent a fall:
- using a work restraint (travel restriction) system that prevents a worker getting into a fall position
If the risk of a person falling remains, you must take sufficient measures to minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall.
Practical examples of collective protection using work equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall:
safety nets and soft landing systems, eg air bags, installed close to the level of the work
An example of personal protection used to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall:
- industrial rope access, eg working on a building façade
- fall arrest system using a high anchor point
Using ladders and step ladders
For tasks of low risk and short duration, ladders and stepladders can be a sensible and practical option.
If your risk assessment determines it is correct to use a ladder, you should further minimise the risk by making sure workers:
- use the right type of ladder for the job
- are competent (you can provide adequate training and/or supervision to help)
- use the equipment provided safely and follow a safe system of work
- re fully aware of the risks and measures to help control them
When is a ladder right for the job?
The law says that ladders can be used for work at height when a risk assessment has shown that using equipment offering a higher level of fall protection is not justified because of the low risk and short duration of use; or there are existing workplace features which cannot be altered.
Short duration is not the deciding factor in establishing whether an activity is acceptable or not - you should have first considered the risk. As a guide, if your task would require staying up a leaning ladder or stepladder for more than 30 minutes at a time, it is recommended that you consider alternative equipment.
You should only use ladders in situations where they can be used safely, eg where the ladder will be level and stable, and where its reasonably practicable to do so, the ladder can be secured.
Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWPs)
If you are thinking of using a MEWP, consider the following questions:
- Height - How high is the job from the ground?
- Application-Do you have the appropriate MEWP for the job? (If you're not sure, check with the hirer or manufacturer)
- Conditions - What are the ground conditions like? Is there a risk of the MEWP becoming unstable or overturning?
- Operators - Are the people using the MEWP trained, competent and fit to do so?
- Obstructions - Could the MEWP be caught on any protruding features or overhead hazards, eg steelwork, tree branches or power lines?
- Traffic - Is there passing traffic and, if so, what do you need to do to prevent collisions?
- Restraint - Do you need to use either work restraint (to prevent people climbing out of the MEWP) or a fall arrest system (which will stop a person hitting the ground if they fall out)? Allowing people to climb out of the basket is not normally recommended - do you need to do this as part of the job?
- Checks - Has the MEWP been examined, inspected and maintained as required by the manufacturer's instructions and have daily checks been carried out?
For more information from industry, see:
MEWPs - Avoiding trapping/crushing injuries - The selection and management of mobile elevating work platforms
Scaffolds should be designed, erected, altered and dismantled only by competent people and the work should always be carried out under the direction of a competent supervisor. This is a requirement of the Work at Height Regulations 2005
You can prevent falls during the erection of scaffolding by using an advanced guard rail system. Where this is not practicable, workers should wear harnesses to arrest their fall.
Although tag systems are not a legal requirement, the law does require inspection of scaffolding from which a person might fall 2 metres or more and the issue of a report by a competent person, on completion and at least weekly thereafter.
A risk assessment may find the need for more frequent inspection of scaffolding. Inspection may also be required after bad weather and always after any modification.
Using a visible tag system to supplement inspection reports is a useful way of ensuring those who need to access the scaffold know that it has been inspected and is safe to use.
Can you use a roof ladder for roof repair work?
Yes, providing more suitable equipment cannot be used because ladders are a last resort and should only be used for low risk, short duration work. Where ladders are used, they need to be of an industrial grade, in good condition and secured to prevent movement. The anchorage at the top of the roof ladder should be by some method which does not depend on the ridge capping, as this is liable to break away from the ridge. The anchorage should bear on the opposite slope by a properly designed and manufactured ridge hook or be secured by other means.
For more information, see Health and Safety In Roof work or the National Federation of Roofing Contractors website or the Advisory Committee for Roof Safety.
Where possible you should avoid working on a fragile roof by doing the following:
- work from underneath the roof using a suitable work platform
- where this is not possible, use a mobile elevating work platform that allows people to work from within the basket without having to stand on the roof.
If access onto the fragile roof cannot be avoided, perimeter edge protection should be installed and staging used to spread the load. Unless all the work and access is on staging or platforms that are fitted with guardrails then safety nets should be installed underneath the roof or a harness system used.
Where harness are used, they need adequate anchorage points. They also rely on discipline, training and supervision to make sure that they are used consistently and correctly.
Do not consider going on any roof in poor weather conditions such as rain, ice, frost or strong winds (particularly gusting) or if slippery conditions exist on the
roof. Winds in excess of 23mph (Force 5) will affect a persons balance.
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.
In the case of low-risk, short duration tasks involving ladders, competence requirements may be no more than making sure employees receive instruction on how to use the equipment safely (eg how to tie a ladder properly) and appropriate training. 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 is one way to help demonstrate competence.
Work at Height Regulations 2005
These regulations apply to all work at height, where there is risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. They place duties on employers, and those who control any work at height activity (such as facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height).
As part of the Regulations, you must ensure:
- all work at height is properly planned and organised
- those involved in work at height are competent
- he risks from work at height are assessed, and appropriate work equipment is selected and used
- the equipment used for work at height is properly inspected and maintained
For more information, see: The Work at Height Regulations 2005