Falling from height is one of the leading causes of death in the workplace. According to the Health and Safety Executive, of the 142 workers killed in 2020/21, 35 deaths were caused by falls from a height – an increase from 29 in the previous year.
The statistics from the HSE clearly show the dangers of working at heights. While not all falls are fatal, some can leave lasting and permanent damage to the individual. Falls from height can lead to injuries such as:
- Brain damage.
- Broken bones.
- Crushed organs.
- Severe bruising.
Construction workers are most likely to be more at risk of falling from heights due to the nature of their work. Steel erecting, scaffolding work, bricklaying, roof work and decorating are some types of activities where working from a height may be involved and potentially risky.
However, falls from a height can take place anywhere and in any job role, from retail environments fetching items from tall shelving to warehouse environments.
Work at height regulations – working at height definition
Work at height is covered by The Work at Height Regulations 2005. Employers must implement safe working practices and prevent death or injury caused by falling from height.
The regulations define work at height as ‘working in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury’.
The HSE classes working at height if you:
- Work above ground/floor level.
- Could fall from an edge through an opening or fragile surface.
- Could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or hole in the ground.
- Working with ladders or stools.
There are no specific height requirements to be met for work at height, but it must be one of the above to count. Slipping or tripping on a level does not count as falling from height. Walking up or down a permanent staircase also doesn’t count as a fall from height.
The regulations also state that an employer should avoid employees working at height if possible. They should also prevent a fall by putting in measures, conducting risk assessments, and minimising the distance or consequence of the fall.
Work from height regulations applies to any role, regardless of the equipment used, the duration of the work or the height at which the work is performed.
It’s your legal duty as an employer to ensure the safety of all employees within your organisation.
You should comply with the rules outlined in the Work at Height Regulations 2005, including:
- Assess the risks involved when working at height and complete risk assessments.
- Ensure adequate training of employees involved in working at height. Our Praxis42 Working from Height course helps employers and employees understand the regulations and risks of working from height.
- Provide working equipment which is regularly inspected and maintained.
- Ensure sufficient planning and supervision of activities involving working at height.
7 tips for working safely at height
Plan the work
Before undertaking an activity that involves working at a height, plan the process. Identify fall distance, hazards, the equipment required, emergency procedures and train employees for the job.
Use proper PPE
Provide PPE as needed for the job such as helmets, protective gloves and harnesses. Employees should be trained to use PPE properly to ensure their safety and the safety of others.
Use ladders correctly
While ladders are crucial for many working at height jobs, they can pose significant risks if misused. The HSE has a guide on the safe use of ladders and stepladders.
All equipment, including PPE, should be inspected regularly to ensure it’s safe to use. Any weaknesses or damage to equipment should be reported and repaired or replaced to prevent any incidents. Checking equipment before every use will help ensure the employee’s and others’ safety.
Ensure employees pay attention to their environment. Before performing their job, employees should examine their setting to ensure all hazards are removed and that they’re not putting others at risk. They should pay attention during their working at height activity in case equipment becomes unstable or hazards arise, for example, members of the public turn up, or severe weather occurs.
Supervision isn’t always possible but should be encouraged. When using ladders or harnesses, ideally, a second employee should keep an eye on the individual at height to help direct them or prevent any slips of the ladder. A person supervising can also alert others of emerging hazards or help in case of emergencies.
Never let employees undertake roles that they’re not trained or qualified for. They should be formally trained to comply with legislation and for the safety of themselves and others. Encourage regular refresher training to raise awareness of risks and maintain safe working practices.