Introduction to working at height safely
Working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries. Common cases include falls from ladders and through fragile surfaces. 'Work at height' means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury (for example a fall through a fragile roof).
Employers can take simple, practical measures to reduce the risk of any of their workers falling while working at height.
What you have to do
You must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people with the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job. You must use the right type of equipment for working at height.
Take a sensible approach when considering precautions. Low-risk, relatively straightforward tasks will require less effort when it comes to planning and there may be some low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary.
Assessing and controlling the risks
First assess the risks, considering the:
- height of the task
- duration and frequency
- condition of the surface being worked on
Before working at height follow these simple steps:
- avoid work at height where it's 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
- where the risk cannot be eliminated, minimise the distance and consequences of a fall by using the right type of equipment
For each step, consider measures that protect everyone at risk (collective protection) before measures that only protect the individual (personal protection).
Find out more in our step-by-step guide
Collective protection is equipment that does not require the person working at height to act for it to be effective. Examples are:
- permanent or temporary guardrails
- scissor lifts
- tower scaffolds
Personal protection is equipment that requires the individual to act for it to be effective. An example is putting on a safety harness correctly and connecting it, with an energy-absorbing lanyard, to a suitable anchor point.
What to do and not do when working at height
When working at height 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
- take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
- provide protection from falling objects
- consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures
To prevent accidents and injuries do not:
- overload ladders – consider the equipment or materials workers are carrying before working at height. Check the pictogram or label on the ladder for information
- overreach on ladders or stepladders
- rest a ladder against weak upper surfaces, for example glazing or plastic gutters
- use ladders or stepladders for strenuous or heavy tasks, only use them for light work of short duration (a maximum of 30 minutes at a time)
- let anyone who is not competent (who doesn't have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job) work at height
Preventing falls from ladders
A large, independent installer of digital terrestrial and satellite equipment recognised it could be doing more to tackle falls, especially as engineers were installing aerials and dishes at a variety of heights from portable leaning ladders and roof ladders.
They took measures including making sure ladders were secured using an eyebolt and ratchet strap, and equipping appropriately trained workers with specialist kit, such as a flexible safety line that can be attached to the secured ladder.
Trained workers now wear a fall-arrest harness that can be attached to the line and the ladder. This means that the ladder cannot slip during use and, even if the engineer slips and falls from the ladder, the fall will be stopped.
If you are an employer or you control work at height (for example if you are a contractor or a factory owner), The Work at Height Regulations 2005 apply to you.