There are many industries in which a typical day’s work might involve working at a height, such as construction, window cleaning, electrical repair and painting. Whenever you are working at a height, there is always the risk that you might fall and hurt yourself. Unfortunately, falling from a height is a major cause of workplace fatalities – it causes thousands of major injuries to workers in the UK every year.

The Work at Height Regulations of 2005 (amended in 2007) outline the appropriate procedures for working at height and legally require employers to adhere to these. How exactly is working at height defined and what should employers and employees know before the scaffolding or ladder is used?

How is “Working at Height” Defined?

The official regulations define working at height as working at a place where the worker could potentially fall a distance that is liable to cause injury to them. This could be above ground level, such as on a ladder or scaffolding, or it could be below ground level such as working in a mine shaft or a well. Also, working at height could apply to moving around the workplace on anything that could cause injury if the employee were to fall off of it.

Reducing the Risks of Working at Height

Any activity in the workplace that meets these regulations should be subjected to a risk assessment, in accordance with the proper health and safety regulations. The risks involved need to be identified and eliminated and suitable control measures need to be introduced.

Supervisors and managers can take a health and safety course in order to know how to assess these risks and enforce the appropriate working practices. An occupational health and safety course will cover all of the dangers of working at height, the relevant laws and regulations, how to conduct a risk assessment and how to implement safe working procedures.

Important Things for Employers to Know

Here are some important points for employers to know about working at heights:

  • You are responsible for making sure that every employee you hire and set on a task that involves working at heights is competent to perform that task. They should have the appropriate health and safety training for the task, or if they are currently undergoing that training they should be working under the supervision of another fully trained employee.
  • Any work should not be carried out at height, if it can be reasonably carried out otherwise than at height. This will help to avoid creating unnecessary risks for your employees.
  • As an employer, it is also very important for you to choose the right work equipment and ensure that this equipment is kept well maintained and functioning correctly. All appropriate equipment should be provided to the employees, including airbags, nets, working platforms, ladders, guardrails, personal fall protection systems and any other essential tools.
  • Your role is also to ensure that none of your employees ever need to work from a fragile surface unless absolutely necessary. If it is required, all appropriate safety equipment should be used and support and protection should be provided to all employees at all times.
  • It is also important to take into consideration what the consequences of a potential fall might be as well as the need for timely evacuation and rescue in an emergency situation.
  • Before beginning a work project, employers have the responsibility to inspect the work surface as well as any fall protection equipment to ensure that it is in good repair, sturdy and working correctly.
  • All ladders must be securely placed and fixed – as they are a means of gaining access rather than a safe working platform.

Important Things for Employees to Know

While the responsibility for keeping employees safe is up to the employer, it is also important for the employee to take responsibility for their own safety. Here are some things that you should keep in mind when you are an employee working at heights:

  • Resist the temptation to cut corners and save time by not following safe working procedures. Perhaps it might be faster to just “jump up” on the ladder really quickly to fix something without securing it properly – but a two minute job might result in a serious injury that could affect you for the rest of your life.
  • You should always have three points of contact on a ladder at all times – such as two feet and one hand. If this is not possible, you should have an alternate safety system in place.
  • If you know that you are not competent and you don’t have the training to do a particular task, you should let your employer know. Never take on work that you are not trained or qualified to do.
  • If your employer asks you to do something that feels unsafe or goes against health and safety regulations, you have the right to challenge them and refuse to do the work. They cannot force you to do something that is against health and safety regulations and puts you in danger. Don’t worry about losing your job, just report the incident to the Health and Safety executive.
  • You can improve your knowledge and skills when it comes to health and safety and working at heights by taking courses. There are many different health and safety courses available that will teach you the appropriate procedures that you need to know when working at heights.
  • Make sure that you get enough sleep and that you don’t indulge in drugs or alcohol before working at heights. Sleep deprivation and intoxication can affect your balance and make you more likely to fall, not to mention the risk of losing your job if you are working under the influence.

These are just a few of the important things that employees and employers should know when it comes to working at heights. With the right regulations and requirements, working at heights can be safe and employees can be protected from the risk of injury.