For many people, the phrase “life has its ups and downs” often refers to the highs and lows we experience in our day to day lives. However, for millions of workers who work at height across the UK, the phrase is quite literal and carries with it a significant amount of risk.
Indeed, falls from height remain the leading cause of death and injury in the workplace, and can have a devastating effect on both employers and employees alike. While many associate these kinds of incidents with high-risk industries such as construction and infrastructure, falling from height is an issue that affects a wide variety of sectors across the UK, including, manufacturing, agriculture, retail and even office-based work.
In an effort to reduce the risks faced by millions of workers, the HSE and the UK government introduced The Work at Height Regulations 2005, a set of rules that govern how work at height is conducted. It’s crucial that employers and employees are aware of the risks involved with working at height, the consequences they can have, and the reasons why safety measures are so important.
However, workplace legislation can often be quite difficult to navigate. In order to help clear things up, we’ve put together this quick guide to help you get to grips with working at height in the workplace.
Working at Height Definition
Working at height is defined as a work-related activity where an individual is at risk of falling from one level to another in a manner liable to cause personal injury. This includes falls from above and below ground, as well as falls from ground level through an opening or hole.
The broad nature of the definition covers a wide range of work activities. A few examples include:
- Using a kickstool, ladder/ step-ladder (both fixed and portable).
- Using a harness or suspension system.
- Working on scaffolding and platforms.
- Working near holes or open trenches.
- Working on or near fragile surfaces.
- The loading and unloading of high platform vehicles.
It is commonly thought that work must take place above 2 meters to qualify. While this is true in some EU countries, the UK has no minimum height requirement. As a result, the criteria for assessing work at height is based primarily on the level of risk involved.
From stockroom assistants to tree surgeons and structural welders – if your duties happen at or near elevation, you are classified as working at height.
Working at Height Regulations 2005
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is a piece of health and safety legislation that governs the safe practice and management of work that takes place at height. Its primary goal is to outline a list of rules that are designed to help reduce workplace risk and prevent occupational death and injury. Additionally, the regulations summarise the responsibilities that employers (including self-employed individuals) and employees have to ensure that work at height is conducted in a safe and secure manner.
One of the key preventative measures that employers can follow is to avoid work at height altogether. Section 6 of the Work at Height Regulations states that employers should avoid working at height wherever possible, and that work should take place exclusively at ground level. However, if this is unavoidable, employers must do everything they reasonably can to prevent risk and minimise both the distance and consequences of a potential fall.
“Avoid. Prevent. Minimise.”
Before work at height can even begin, employers must ensure that all work is appropriately planned, organised and supervised. As part of their duties they should:
- Conduct regular risk assessments to identify hazards, the level of risk involved and those who may be affected. They should also note any and all precautions that need to be taken.
- Take into account the nature, frequency and duration of work conducted at height.
- Consider the impact that weather conditions can have on their operation and how this can increase the risk of a fall.
- Make provisions for the safe storage and management of tools and materials.
- Ensure that appropriate evacuation and rescue procedures are in place.
Under the Working at Height Regulations, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that anyone involved in controlling, supervising or taking part in height related work is competent to do so. Employers must ensure that workers undergo regular training and assessment to make sure they have the appropriate skills, fitness level, knowledge and proficiency to safely undertake their duties.
Choosing the right equipment for the job is an essential part of planning any height related work activity, and can help employers with safety working at height and significantly reduce fall risks on their operations. The Working at Height Regulations provide a detailed account of everything employers must do regarding the use of work and safety equipment.
- Work Equipment – Employers must select equipment that is appropriate for the work being conducted.
- Safety Equipment – They must provide safety equipment that is appropriate for the work operation, including collective protection (guardrail systems, scaffolding) and personal protection (work restraint and fall arrest equipment).
- Training – They must make sure that workers are appropriately trained in the use of any equipment that they must use as part of their duties.
- Inspection – They must ensure that all equipment is maintained, regularly inspected and compliant with relevant health and safety guidelines.
The risk of falling doesn’t just affect workers – it also applies to the tools and equipment that they use. Employers must take into account the dangers posed by falling objects and the potential consequences that they can have. In situations where this isn’t practical, exclusion zones and safety netting should be put in place to prevent falling equipment hitting persons or structures below them.
While the Work at Height Regulations focus primarily on responsibilities of employers, they can’t do everything – employees must also comply with reasonable health and safety measures as part of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Due to the significant level of risk involved in working at height, the regulations outline additional rules that employees must abide by:
- Workers should comply with all reasonable instructions given to them regarding working at height.
- They are duty-bound to report any health and safety issues that affect themselves or others.
- They must only use appropriate work equipment and safety devices to undertake work at height.
- They must only use equipment and safety devices that they have been trained to use.
As with most health and safety legislation in the UK, the Working at Height Regulations are designed to help reduce risk and prevent potentially fatal incidents. With so much on the line, it’s essential that everyone involved in working at height knows how to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground – even when they’re off it.
This article is purely for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. For more information regarding the Working at Height Regulations 2005 visit: http://www.hse.gov.uk/