Working at Height Safely

January 1, 2018


I was on a site this morning and was met with a scene that would have put the wind up any passer by – let alone a health and safety professional.


A scaffolding operative and his colleagues were in the process of erecting a scaffold for access onto a flat roof about 60 feet high. One of the scaffolders was nearing the top and moving around on a single unsecured scaffold board. He had no fall protection in place whatsoever. The slightest slip would have sent him tumbling to ground level. 


By chance I received an email news article by the Safety & Health Practitioner magazine this same morning. It contained details of an almost identical situation which resulted in prosecution. The employee and employer received 2 year suspended prison sentences for breaching the Working at Height Regulations 2005.

There are other factors addressed in the Working at Height Regulations but this article only focuses the main principles of controlling falls from height.

The Working at Height Regulations 2005 require you to do three simple things.

1. Avoid work at height where reasonably practicable to do so. ‘Reasonably Practicable’ means to balance the risk with the time, cost and effort of controlling it. You can gain a better understanding of what is reasonably practicable for working at height in your industry from the HSE, industry bodies or health and safety consultants. 

Example: Window Cleaners who need to clean windows above ground level. It is
commonplace to see these companies making use of boom systems to avoid working at height.

2. Where it cannot be avoided they should be prevented. Prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment. Essentially, if working at height is often unavoidable you must take steps to prevent falls. 

Furthermore you should give preference to collective measures over individual
measures and consider whether existing safe places of work can be used or whether work equipment would be suitable.

Example: For collective control measures you might choose to install edge protection on a flat roof that is regularly accessed for maintenance purposes. Similarly you may consider work equipment such as mobile elevated working platforms, tower scaffolds or scaffolding to reduce the risk of falls from height. For individual measures you may look at fall prevention systems. Using the flat roof example this might be the installation of anchor points used in conjunction with 

harnesses and lanyards to prevent workers from reaching the edge of the roof.

3. Minimise the distance and consequences of a fall. 


If the risk of falling remains then you need to consider whether you can minimise the consequences or distance of the fall. Again, collective measures should be given priority  over individual measures.  


Example: Roofers achieve reducing the consequences of a fall through collective controls such as safety netting or, where the building is not high enough, they use air bag systems.

For an example of induvial measures it may be necessary to use roped access
systems. A tree surgeon may need to access part of a tree that they cannot reach from ground level or working platform for example. 

Take this opportunity to identify the work at height you do and apply the above hierarchy and decide on the most suitable control measures. Remember that situations change,
sometimes day to day, and therefore you need to be able to react accordingly.
Keep up to date with industry guidance, HSE Approved Codes of Practice/Guidance and engage the help of Health & Safety professionals for more complex tasks/situations.

Ultimately, remember the hierarchy:

1. Eliminate work at height

2. Prevent falls

3. Reduce consequences/distance of falls 

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