Are there any health and safety requirements which employers must be aware of when employing people to work at heights?

Working at height in the UK

Many individuals when undertaking their normal duties required for their employment will be required to work at height. This clearly brings in the notion of people working as builders or window cleaners but there are many other jobs where both employers and employees will have to be aware of certain health and safety requirements for working at heights.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is the legislative instrument which deals with the health and safety requirements for working at height in England and Wales. This gives effect to the European Union laws covering the same topic.

What is meant by working as heights?

Under the Regulations, a place of height is one which is regarded as where a person could be injured by falling from it. For the purposes of the law a place is at height even if it is at ground level or even it is below ground level.

Work for the purpose of the Regulations means moving around in the working environment and does not include travelling to and from work.

What is the potential problem when working at height?

There are various hazards which can be experienced when working at height; broadly speaking they will fall into one of the following three categories:

  1. Falling from heights

  2. Objects falling from heights

  3. Falls from collapsing structures

What duties does an employer have when working at heights?

An employer will have to undertake the following duties when working at heights:

  • To avoid all work at height whenever this is possible

  • To use suitable equipment to aid the work at height if there is no other method of carrying out the work from a place which is not at height

  • To do everything which is possible to minimise the height at which the person may fall from

  • To do everything possible to minimise the consequences of someone falling from a height

Is an employer required to undertake a full risk assessment prior to allowing employees to work at height?

As is the case under other areas of health and safety law in order for an employee to be fully compliant under the Work at Height Regulations he is required to undertake a full risk assessment.

As an employer what must I do to ensure that I have completed a full risk assessment?

An employer must carry out a risk assessment before working at height in order to establish what health and safety measures must be put in place in order to avoid or reduce risk. Therefore the following issues should be taken into consider before working at height:

  • The activity

  • The equipment which is to be used

  • The physical condition of the people – such factors as their age and fitness should be taken into consideration here

  • The location of the work

  • The environment in which the work is to take place in – such issues as the weather, the temperature and lighting should be taken into consideration

  • The duration of the work

  • The condition and stability of the work surfaces

Are there any specific issues which should be taken into consideration and put in place under the Regulations?

When dealing with the potential hazards mentioned above more specific measures will have to be put in place along the following lines:

Falling Objects

To combat against falling objects the following must be put in place:

  • Barriers must be provided to prevent items from slipping or being knocked off the edge of a structure

  • Objects should be secured to the structure

  • All loose objects and any tools should be properly secured when working at height

  • Where necessary an exclusion zone should be created beneath the structure ensuring that no one can walk beneath it and potentially be hit by a falling object

  • Workers who are working below the individuals working at height should also be provided with hard hats in order to prevent any injury being caused by falling objects

When an individual could possibly fall from a certain height

When an individual could possibly fall from a height of more than 2m and when there is an increased risk of injury from falling a distance less than 2m such as when working near a traffic route the following precautions must be put in place:

  • The provision of Edge protection            

  • The provision of Safety harnesses

  • Ensuring that individuals maintain a safe distance from the edge

  • The provision of Safety nets

Falling from collapsing structures

All structures should be designed in a manner which makes them safe and then built by competent people.

A competent person should then inspect and attach a notice to a structure following completion and before the structure is put into use. Further inspections on a regular basis – at least weekly – and after severe weather in relation to external structures or if the structure is significantly altered.