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 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.
The 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:
For more information, see: The Work at Height Regulations 2005.
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.
For more information, see Safe use of ladders and stepladders.
Alternatively, you can access the Work at height Access equipment Information Toolkit (WAIT). This can help you select the right access equipment for the planned work.
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 changed the meaning of working platforms, which were traditionally seen as fully-boarded platforms with handrails and toe boards. A working platform can now be virtually any surface from which work can be carried out, such as:
The Regulations require that, for construction work, handrails have a minimum height of 950 mm, and that any gap between the top rail and any intermediate rail should not exceed 470 mm. The Regulations also require toe boards to be suitable and sufficient (eg a toe board of a minimum 100 mm height would be acceptable).
For non-construction work, there are no prescriptive dimensions. However, guard rails, toe boards, barriers and other collective means of protection should be of sufficient dimension to ensure a person cannot fall through or over them.
In the absence of any standards, HSE operational guidance suggests that guard rail heights in non-construction activities should be a minimum of 950 mm. Any protection below this height should be justified on the basis of a risk assessment.
For buildings, factories, warehouses, offices, public buildings, retail premises etc, sufficient dimensions for guard rails or similar barriers will be achieved by complying with the Building Regulations – which require guard rails to be 1100 mm.
For plant, machinery, equipment etc, sufficient dimensions will be achieved by compliance with any relevant EN standard. For example, BS EN 14122-3:2013 (covering the safety of machinery access) specifies a top guard rail of 1100 mm; while the essential health and safety requirements of the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 specify that such equipment is 'designed and constructed to avoid falls’.
Collective protection is equipment that does not require the person working at height to act to be effective. Examples are permanent or temporary guardrails, scissor lifts and tower scaffolds.
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.
If you are thinking of using a MEWP, consider the following questions:
For more information from industry, see:
For information and answers to common questions about scaffolding, see:
You need to be competent to build, inspect, use and dismantle a tower
The following are all essential safety features that should be supplied upon purchase or hire of the tower:
You should use one of the 2 recognised safe methods to assemble and dismantle a tower:
Once the tower is built it must be inspected by a competent person
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.