Assessing all work at height

What you need to do

The law requires that employers and self-employed contractors assess the risk from work at height and go on to organise and plan the work so it is carried out safely.

Try avoiding work at height, if you can. You must otherwise prevent or arrest a fall and injury if work at height is necessary.

Instruct and train your workforce in the precautions needed. Method statements are widely used in the construction industry to help manage the work and communicate what is required to all those involved.

Key issues for all work at height are:

Work at height is the biggest single cause of fatal and serious injury in the construction industry, particularly on smaller projects.

Over 60% of deaths during work at height involve falls:

  • from ladders, scaffolds, working platforms and roof edges
  • through fragile roofs or rooflights

Risk assessment

Employers and self-employed contractors must:

  • Assess the risks
  • Decide on the precautions required
  • Record the significant findings
  • Review the assessment as necessary

Do not overcomplicate the process. For many firms your work at height risks will be well known and the necessary control measures easy to apply.

Follow HSE's Managing risks and risk assessment at work information.

Precautions required

The law on work at height requires that you take account of your risk assessment in organising and planning work and identifying the precautions required. Your objective is to make sure work at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out in a safe manner.

The approach you can adopt for work at height is to follow the work at height hierarchy of controls:  The hierarchy must be followed systematically and only when one level is not reasonably practicable may the next level be considered.

It is not acceptable to select work equipment from lower down the hierarchy e.g. personal fall arrest, such as harnesses and lanyards in the first instance.

Before working at height, you must work through these simple steps:

The hierarchy of control measures with practical examples

  • Avoid working at height unless it is essential e.g. erect guard rails on steelwork at ground level and then crane the steel and the guard rails into position; provide cast in mesh across riser ducts at the position of services; fix nets using extending poles
  • Prevent falls by using an existing safe place of work that does not require the use or addition of work equipment to prevent a fall e.g. a flat roof with permanent edge protection
  • Prevent falls by using work equipment that protects all those at risk e.g. access equipment fitted with guard rails, such as independent scaffolds, tower scaffolds, mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) and mast climbing work platforms (MCWPs)
  • Prevent falls by using work equipment that protects the individual e.g. a harness with a short lanyard which makes it impossible for a person to get to a fall position (this is called work restraint)
  • Mitigate falls by using work equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall and protect all those at risk e.g. nets or soft-landing systems positioned close under the work surface
  • Mitigate falls by using work equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall and protect the individual e.g. a personal fall arrest system with the anchorage point sited above the head, or a rope access system
  • Mitigate falls by using work equipment that minimises the consequences of a fall e.g. nets rigged at a lower level, or inflatable injury protection
  • Mitigate falls through training, instruction or other means e.g. ensure ladders are inspected regularly and are used by competent people, demarcate areas to provide a warning, provide adequate lighting, apply sensible housekeeping measures, provide suitable footwear etc

Method statements

A method statement is a useful way of recording the hazards involved in specific work at height tasks and communicating the risk and precautions required to all those involved in the work. The statement need be no longer than necessary to achieve these objectives effectively.

The method statement should be clear and illustrated by simple sketches where necessary. Avoid ambiguities or generalisations, which could lead to confusion. Statements are for the benefit of those carrying out the work and their immediate supervisors and should not be overcomplicated.

Equipment needed for safe working should be clearly identified and available before work starts. Workers should know what to do if the work method needs to be changed.

Is this page useful?