The Work at Height Regulations were introduced in a bid to prevent deaths and injuries caused by falls from height in the workplace and/or as a result of unsafe working practices.
Work at height means work in any place, including a place at or below ground level, where, if measures required by these regulations aren’t taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. It includes (but is not limited to):
Employers, facilities managers, building owners and anyone else that controls work at height, including the self-employed, can be held responsible should an accident occur.
Duties are imposed on anyone who:
Work at height must be appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner.
A failure to adequately supervise work at height often results in plans not being followed.
Duty holders should ensure that persons engaged in any activity (includes organisation and planning, supervision, and selection and use of work equipment) relating to work at height and/or associated work equipment, are capable of performing the task safely and effectively.
An assessment of what constitutes competence for a particular task should be made to ensure that it’s completed by those with the relevant skills, knowledge and experience.
The regulations set out a hierarchy of measures to enable duty holders to select the most appropriate method of work in order to avoid or minimise risks associated with work at height.
Risk assessment is the first step and prompts duty holders to ask themselves questions in determining how to work safely, following the hierarchy:
Each level of the hierarchy is qualified by ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, so a duty holder has to consider avoidance before prevention, and prevention before mitigation, etc.
Completing a risk assessment to identify what suitable and sufficient measures should be taken to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury is a key part of the regulations.
When selecting work equipment for work at height, a duty holder is required to give collective measures priority over personal measures – i.e. the collective protection offered by MEWPs, scaffolding, guardrails, etc. should be given preference to personal fall protection systems, such as work positioning and fall arrest.
This doesn’t mean personal fall protection systems is prohibited however, if it is deemed the most appropriate work equipment given the nature of the work to be carried out then it should be used.
When considering the nature of the work to be carried out, in addition to the hierarchy identified above, a number of principles should be used in the risk assessment process to determine which work equipment is best suited for a particular job.
These principles include:
Whilst reflecting the hierarchical approach identified earlier, fragile surfaces are specifically covered in the regulations.
This recognises the significant number of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from falls through fragile surfaces that occur year on year.
Prominent warning notices should be placed at approaches to fragile surfaces. Where this is not reasonably practicable, persons should be made aware by other means, such as permit to work systems.
It is also critical to consider factors that could impact fragility (e.g. age of the structure) at the organisation and planning stage.
The regulations include specific guidance and requirements for inspection of work equipment and checks of places of work at height.
Where the safety of the work equipment depends on how it has been installed or assembled, there is a need to ensure it’s not used until it has been inspected by a competent person each time it’s erected, moved or significantly adjusted.
If equipment is exposed to conditions that may cause it to deteriorate (e.g. cold and wet weather), and result in a dangerous situation, it should be inspected at suitable intervals appropriate to the environment and use.
Any working platform used for construction work and from which a person could fall more than two metres must be inspected:
Duty holders are required to keep a record of inspection for certain types of work equipment including guard rails, toe-boards, barriers or similar collective means of protection and working platforms or ladders that are fixed or mobile.
Some work equipment (MEWPs, for example) used for work at height will require inspection in accordance with the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations.
Checks need to be made on existing fall protection measures for permanent situations like roofs, plant, tanks and silos prior to use to ensure there are no obvious defects which could increase the risk of a fall.
Measures must be taken to prevent the fall of any material or object by keeping workplaces at height clear of loose material or objects so far as is reasonably practicable. Where this isn’t reasonably practicable, barriers, toe boards, etc. must be provided so that they can’t roll off and/or be inadvertently knocked off.
Uncontrolled throwing of materials or objects from height is to be avoided with hoists or rubbish chutes provided and sited in suitable cordoned off areas.
While the prevention of falls and falling objects should be the ultimate goal for duty holders, it’s recognised that there are circumstances where it’s not entirely achievable to control the hazards. In such circumstances, a duty holder can designate a danger area around or underneath such work (by erecting barriers or fencing) so that those not engaged in the work are prevented from entering the area.
As part of controlling the hazards associated with work at height, it’s important not to overlook the duty of those working under the control of another to: