Work at height: preventing falls

What you need to do...

The law covers all work activities where people could fall and injure themselves. The duties are on employers, the self-employed and others who have control over work at height. You must make sure work at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out by people who are competent to do the job. The key issues are:

What you need to know...

Falls are the second highest cause of death in agriculture – every year at least eight people die falling from a height. Those who survive suffer broken bones and worse. Falls often happen from roofs, lofts, ladders, vehicles, bale stacks, and unsuitable access equipment, such as buckets. These accidents and injuries cause you pain and cost your farm time and money. Most fall injuries can be avoided.

The law says you need to follow these rules in this order:

  • avoid work at height where you can; and if not
  • use work equipment or measures to prevent falls; and if not
  • use work equipment that minimises the distance and consequences of a fall.

[back to top]

Working on roofs

  • Most types of fibre cement roofs will be fragile. Roof lights will often also be fragile.
  • No one must ever work on or from, or walk over, fragile roofs unless platforms, covers or similar are provided which will adequately support their weight.
  • Always consider first whether it is really necessary to access the roof.
  • Does the work need to be done, or could it be done in some other way, such as from below or from an integrated work platform?
  • If you, your employees or contractors do need access roofs for any reason then always:
    • Plan the work.
    • Set aside enough time to do the work.
    • Take account of weather conditions such as light levels, ice, wind and rain.
    • Make sure everyone knows the precautions to be followed when working at height.
    • Fix a prominent permanent warning notice at the approach to any fragile roof.
    • Never walk on fragile materials such as asbestos or other fibre cement sheet, roof lights or glass. Roof lights and glass may have been painted over.
    • Never 'walk the purlins' or 'walk the line of the bolts'.
    • Roof ladders or crawling boards must span at least three purlins. They should be at least 600 mm wide and more when the work requires it.
    • Don't use a pair of boards to 'leapfrog' across a fragile roof, but provide enough boards.
    • Take precautions to prevent a person falling from the ladder or board. Use edge protection or safety harnesses, or safety netting where this is not feasible. Take specialised advice.
    • Roof ladders must be securely placed, with the anchorage bearing on the opposite side of the roof. Never use gutters to support any ladder.

[back to top]

Working on or passing near to fragile roofing material

You will need to provide protection when anyone passes by or works nearer than 2 m to fragile materials, eg during access along valley gutters in a fragile roof, when an otherwise non-fragile roof contains fragile roof lights, or during access to working areas on a fragile roof.

You should:

  • wherever possible, make sure that all fragile materials (eg 2 m or closer to the people at risk) are securely covered; or
  • provide full edge protection (top rail, intermediate guard rail or equivalent and toe board) around or along the fragile material to prevent access to it. Make sure you take precautions when installing such protection, eg use appropriate netting.

If it is not reasonably practicable to provide such protection:

  • use safety nets or harnesses but make sure workers are trained and competent in their installation and use. If the building structure is unsuited to netting or harnesses (eg too low), a well-built and suitably sized bale stack close to the underside of the fragile roof being worked on will reduce the risk of injury if someone does fall through the roof.

[back to top]

Working on glasshouse roofs

to avoid working at height in glasshouses by, for example:

  • using automated roof cleaning and shading;
  • using mechanical washing systems or sprinklers;
  • reducing the need for cleaning, eg by managing leaf and other debris to lessen the need to clear blocked gutters;
  • considering safe maintenance when replacing or buying new buildings, eg positioning of motors;
  • avoiding high-level picking.

If you cannot avoid working at height, then prevent falls by planning this work properly.

If possible, reduce the risks by, for example:

  • stopping all production work activity below the area in which work is taking place;
  • using roofing materials less likely to be damaged, such as acrylic or polycarbonate sheets;
  • replacing glass from below;
  • examining glass sheets for flaws before handling them;
  • never working by lying directly on the glass itself;
  • never walking along a valley gutter without fall-protection measures in place.

If access onto the roof is unavoidable, safe systems of work will be needed:

  • Consider how, or if, airbags or staging could be installed below the work area. On new glasshouses it may be possible to install nets.
  • Use devices to help prevent falls when moving along, or working from, a gutter. If possible, use valley gutter protection such as timber bearers supporting runs of scaffold boards extending at least 1 m from the gutter on each side.

If the glasshouse will not support this weight, other equipment should then be used, such as:

  • permanent hand railing;
  • a taut line with harness;
  • ride-on trolleys;
  • lightweight balancing frames;
  • a combination of the above.

The equipment used will depend on the type of glasshouse, the width of the gutter and the job to be done. All equipment should be properly designed, constructed and maintained, and ride-on trolleys and balancing frames should be:

  • light and easily carried;
  • robust and strong enough to support the loads they will be exposed to, eg the weight of a person;
  • easily transferred from roof to roof without putting people at risk.

Be careful about snagging trouser legs on glazing bars. Tuck trouser bottoms into boots or socks or wear trousers with elasticated bottoms.

Glasshouse manufacturers should be able to give advice about suitable access equipment for particular glasshouse types, eg those with almost flush glazing bars, which can make positioning ladders etc difficult.

Working on vehicles

  • Jumping down from vehicles is bad for your knees and you are likely to fall.
  • Take your time climbing down from the cab and use the provided steps and handholds rather than the steering wheel.
  • Plan loading and unloading to avoid the need to work at height on the vehicle.
  • Wear well-fitting, slip-resistant safety footwear when working on vehicles.
  • Ask for well-designed access when purchasing vehicles and think about how you will be able to get to the high parts of a machine to maintain it safely.

[back to top]

Working with bales: loading trailers and stacking

  • Many incidents (some fatal) involve loading bales on to the trailer, or during or after stacking. When loading, check that:
    • trailer floors are in good condition and end racks or hay ladders are used;
    • loads are built to bind themselves. Use sound bales for all edges;
    • stackers keep away from the edges. Drivers should indicate clearly before the trailer is moved;
    • full loads are secured before leaving the field and no one rides on them. Provide ladders for access to the load.
  • Stacking is a skill, and requires trained, competent people. 
  • Inspect stacks regularly, and make sure de-stacking is done safely.
  • A falling bale can kill, so keep people clear when unloading or de-stacking.

[back to top]

Work platforms on fork-lift trucks

  • If you need to raise people above the ground, eg for building maintenance, use properly designed work platforms rather than ladders.
  • Never use grain buckets, pallets, or other makeshift equipment. Serious injuries and death have resulted from buckets tipping accidentally.
  • For planned or regular work at height, you should use a fully integrated and properly constructed working platform.  You should not normally use a non-integrated work platform

[back to top]


  • Many tasks will be less hazardous if you do them from a properly designed and erected scaffold.
  • Use competent and experienced workers to erect a scaffold, and make sure they are under the control of, and inspected regularly by, a competent person.

[back to top]


ladder placed on a board to prevent it sinking into soft ground and tied to stop it slipping

This ladder is placed on a board to prevent it sinking into soft ground and tied to stop it slipping.

  • Ladders are not banned.
  • However, you should never work from a ladder if there is a safer way of doing the job, eg by using a scaffold or suitable working platform.
  • If the job is quick (minutes rather than hours) and simple, you can use a ladder.
  • Always make sure the ladder:
    • has level and firm footings;
    • does not lean against a fragile surface (eg fibre cement gutters)
    • is secured to prevent it slipping.


Is this page useful?