Working at height: A brief guide to the law

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1 Health and Safety Executive Working at height: A brief guide to the law Falls from height remain one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries. Common causes include falls from ladders and through fragile roofs. The purpose of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is to prevent death and injury from a fall from height. They apply to work at height where there is a risk of a fall that could cause personal injury. This is a brief guide that describes what you, as an employer, may need to do to protect your employees from falls from height. It will also be useful to employees and their representatives Industries and trade associations have also produced guidance about working at height for specific jobs or for using certain types of access equipment. You can find out more on the HSE website at: To reduce the risks from working at height you will need to: Make sure that all work at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This includes using the right type of access equipment for the job. The following steps should be followed systematically; 1. Avoid work at height where you can; 2. Use equipment to prevent falls where work at height cannot be avoided; 3. Use equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall where the risk cannot be eliminated; 4. Use collective protection measures (e.g. scaffolds, nets, soft landing systems) over individual protection (e.g. a harness). Key points to consider are: Equipment should be stable and strong enough for the job; Don t overload or overreach when using ladders; Do as much work as possible from the ground; Take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces; Ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height; Consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures; Provide protection from falling objects; Make sure equipment is maintained and inspected regularly. Page 1 of 7

2 What is classed as work at height? Work at height means work in any place, including a place at or below ground level, where, if measures were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. There are some examples where this doesn t apply, such as walking up and down a permanent staircase in an office. Work at height does not include a slip or a trip on the level, as a fall from height has to involve a fall from a higher level to a lower level. Who do the Regulations apply to? If you are an employer or you control work at height, these Regulations apply to you. Workers also have responsibilities in law. Who is competent to work at height? Competence takes into account a range of factors, such as knowledge, experience and training. There are occasions when having an awareness of the risks and knowledge of how to use the equipment safely will be enough for someone to count as competent without the need for them to be to be formally qualified. How do you comply with these Regulations? Employers and those in control of any work activity, should consider what needs to be done and take a sensible risk-based approach to identify suitable controls. This means looking at the risks that may arise when working at height and then putting sensible health and safety measures in place to control them. More guidance on risk assessment can be found at The regulations set out simple steps, which should be followed systematically (see the step by step guide below) to minimise the risk of a fall. Only when a risk precaution becomes not reasonably practicable may the next higher level of risk or step be considered. Reasonably practicable means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the risk in terms of money, time or trouble. The following diagram should help you to decide on how best to control the risks in order to be able to work at height safety. It is not always necessary to implement all parts of the steps below, for example in the case of a fully boarded and guarded scaffold; workers would not be expected to also wear personal fall-arrest equipment. Page 2 of 7

3 INDG401 Revised draft V1 for comments (June 2012) Page 3 of 7

4 Employers and those in control of work at height must: Always consider measures that protect everyone who is at risk, i.e. collective protection measures (permanent/temporary guardrails, scaffolds, nets, soft landing systems, which do not require any action by the person working at height to be effective) before measures that only protect the individual, i.e. personal protection measures (a harness and lanyard which requires actions by the individual to be effective, e.g. putting the harness on correctly and connecting the lanyard to the harness and the anchor point). Frequently asked questions about working at height can be found at How do you choose the right equipment to use for a job? When selecting equipment for work at height employers must: provide the most suitable equipment appropriate for the work to be undertaken; take account of factors such as: - the working conditions; - nature, frequency and duration of the work, and - risks to the safety of everyone at the place where the work equipment is to be used. If you are unsure which type of access equipment to use, once you have considered the risks, the Work at height Access equipment Information Toolkit (or WAIT) is a free online resource that offers possible solutions. It provides details of some of the most common types of access equipment. WAIT can be accessed at Are ladders banned? For certain light work tasks, which pose a low risk and are of short duration, then ladders may be used as long as the user has been instructed and trained how to use them safely and are fully aware of the risks and measures to help control them. HSE have produced a guide on the safe use of ladders and stepladders How do you ensure the equipment itself is in good condition? Work equipment needs to be assembled or installed according to manufacturer s instruction. Page 4 of 7

5 Where the safety of the work equipment depends on how it s been installed or assembled, an employer should ensure that it not used until it has been inspected in that position. Any equipment exposed to conditions that may cause it to deteriorate and liable to result in a dangerous situation should be inspected at suitable intervals appropriate to the environment and use. Every time something happens that may affect the safety or stability of the equipment (e.g. adverse weather, accidental damage), a repeat inspection should be carried out. What must employees do? Employees have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions, and to co-operate with their employer to enable their health and safety duties and requirements to be complied with. If you are an employee or working under someone else s control, the law says you must: report any safety hazard you identify to your employer; use the equipment and safety devices supplied or given to you properly, in accordance with any training and instructions (unless you think that would be unsafe, in which case you should seek further instructions before continuing). In summary, what are the key messages for employers? In summary, employers and those who control work at height must ensure they: manage the risks associated with work at height by taking steps to avoid, prevent or minimise any risks, so far as is reasonably practicable; consult employees and their representatives on the risks and how to control them; choose the right work equipment for the job, giving priority to collective protection (such as guardrails and mobile elevating work platforms) over personal protection (such as a harness with a lanyard attached to an anchor point); plan for emergencies and rescue (e.g. agree a set procedure for evacuation); take account of weather conditions that could compromise worker safety (e.g. postpone the work during severe weather). This does not apply to the Page 5 of 7

6 emergency services when they are attempting to save a life in an emergency this is known as the emergency or rescue phase and once it has passed the Regulations apply as normal; have competent people doing the work, or if they are being trained they work under the supervision of a competent person. Make an assessment of what constitutes competence for a particular task and ensure that those with the relevant skills, knowledge and experience are employed to perform that task; check the place where work at height is to be done is safe (each individual place where people will work at height must be checked on every occasion before it is used); inspect equipment (at suitable intervals) and maintain it; properly control the risk of fragile surfaces to minimise the potential for a fall. A fragile surface is a surface that would be liable to fail if any reasonably foreseeable load was applied to it. Common fragile surfaces encountered during work at height include asbestos and fibre cement roof sheets, skylights, glazing; stop materials or objects from falling, or if its not reasonably practicable to prevent objects falling, take suitable and sufficient measures to ensure no one can be injured (e.g. mesh on scaffold to stop materials such as bricks falling off); store materials and objects safely so that they won t cause injury if they are disturbed or collapse. Further reading The falls from height webpage s contain links to more advice and guidance: If you require a full copy of the regulations: The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended) If you need more specific information for a particular industry: working at height in construction: link here working on height in agriculture: link here Others? For information on using ladders and stepladders: The safe use of ladders and stepladders - a brief guide. (INDG455) Page 6 of 7

7 More information about using work equipment can be accessed atwww.hse.gov.uk/equipment/legislation.htm#lift Further information HSE priced and free publications are available by mail order from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA Tel: Fax: Website: (HSE priced publications are also available from bookshops and free leaflets can be downloaded from HSE s website: The Stationery Office publications are available from The Stationery Office, PO Box 29, Norwich NR3 1GN Tel: Fax: Website: (They are also available from bookshops.) This guidance is issued by the Health and Safety Executive. Following the guidance is not compulsory and you are free to take other action. But if you do follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law. Health and safety inspectors seek to secure compliance with the law and may refer to this guidance as illustrating good practice. This document is available in priced packs of 10 from HSE Books, ISBN Single free copies are also available from HSE Books. Crown copyright This publication may be freely reproduced, except for advertising, endorsement or commercial purposes. First published 04/07. Please acknowledge the source as HSE. Page 7 of 7

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