Working at height and health and safety

Working At Height & Health & Safety

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2015-12-10 14:48

As an Employer, What Do You Need To Know?

Every year employees suffer life changing injuries or die from fall from height at work. The sad thing is that often these incidents could be avoided by the simple application of health and safety principles. Beside the human suffering, these incidents lead to prosecutions and large financial cost for the companies involved. These incidents are not malicious in nature, they are caused by cutting corners, bad planning and sometimes downright stupidity. Let's look at how you can avoid being one of those companies.

Before we talk about your responsibilities under the specific act, you need to understand that you are responsible for the health and safety of your employees at work. That is the over riding concept in law, in the case of working at height there is regulation. However, other parts of an employees work may not be covered by specific regulation. That doesn't mean you are any less responsible. 

Working at height, the law

Working at height is covered by The Work at Height Regulations 2005 of which the purpose is to prevent death and injury caused by a fall from height. If you are an employer or you are involved in the control work at height (for example facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height) the Regulations apply to you.

What do you need to do?

Employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure that the work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This includes the use of the right type of equipment for working at the height involved. Before any work starts, employers and those in control must first assess the risks involved with the work to be undertaken.

Employee obligations

As with all health and safety law, employees have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions. They must also co-operate with their employer to enable their health and safety duties and requirements to be complied with. 

HSE guidance

HSE have produced guidance to help you comply with the law, You can see Working at height: A brief guide for more information. You must consider the risks associated with work at height and putting in place sensible and proportionate measures to manage them. Here is a simple step-by-step guide provided by the HSE to help you control risks when working at height. Let's look at the questions you need to ask yourself.

Can you avoid working at height in the first place?

Is there a way for you to avoid doing all the work at height? Try to 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

Can you prevent a fall from occurring?

Is there a way that you can completely prevent a fall from happening at all? That may seem like a stupid question, however it is simply to get you thinking about minimising risks. It may be possible to prevent falls from occurring 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 examples of collective protection when using an existing place of work would be 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
  • scaffolds

An example of personal protection equipment to prevent a fall would be using a work restraint (travel restriction) or harness system that prevents a worker getting into a fall position.

Can you minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall?

The law states that if the risk of a person falling remains, you must take sufficient measures to minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall. The measures used could be collective protection measures such as safety nets and soft landing systems, like 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 could be industrial rope access, eg working on a building façade or a fall arrest system using a high anchor point. 

Using ladders and stepladders

For tasks of low risk and short duration, ladders and stepladders are a sensible and practical option. It is worthy to note that the HSE has not banned the use of ladders, that is a myth. They have simply stated that ladders need to be up to the task at hand and secured. 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
  • are fully aware of the risks and measures to help control them

Follow HSE guidance on safe use of ladders and stepladders. For each step, consider what is reasonably practicable and use ‘collective protection’ before ‘personal protection’

What are the Key messages for you

Employers and those in control of any work at height must first assess the risks involved with that work. Before any work at height takes place, you must follow these simple steps:

  • avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so
  • where work at height cannot be easily 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

You should:

  • 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, maintained and checked regularly
  • not overload or overreach when working at height
  • take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
  • provide protection from falling objects
  • consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures

You need to ensure that all of your health and safety precautions pertaining to working at height are continuous. This will help you to keep risks as low as reasonably possible. If you have any questions about health surveillance services in the UK, or you are looking for health and safety services in Leicester or across the UK, don't hesitate to call us on 01455 234 600 or contact us online. 

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