When it comes to working at height, this doesn’t just include those working in construction or maintenance. Many other occupations work at height as part of their job as well.
In any workplace, businesses must be aware of health and safety risks to ensure measures are in place to avoid these. Unfortunately, working at height is associated with more fatalities than any other construction activity, which enforces the need for assessments and protocols to avoid these risks.
In this article, we run through the main risks associated with working at heights, alongside several key control measures to minimise the chances of accidents or injury.
Whether you work in construction, painting and decorating, window cleaning or any other job where you might be working at heights, health and safety measures and training should be in place.
There are numerous hazards to consider when working at height, from the obvious risks such as falling, to lesser known dangers like inadequate risk assessments. It’s important to understand these risks if you’re working at height yourself or completing a risk assessment for a task where the height of the work presents a risk.
Below are the major risks that are present when working at heights.
One of the most common hazards when working from height is falling. These risks can range from near-misses resulting in minor bruises or scrapes to serious fatalities. When someone encounters a fall when working from a height, the consequences are usually severe, making it essential that health and safety procedures are in place.
The next most common hazard when working from height is dropping any equipment being used. Many think that in comparison to falling, dropping items is less severe. However, this too can cause fatalities and serious injury, depending on what has fallen, the height from which it fell, and who else was around or underneath where the work was taking place.
Mishaps and mistakes with ladders are unfortunately extremely common, making them a substantial contributing factor to hazards when working from height. There are multiple risk factors to consider when using ladders, from slipping whilst climbing to the ladder falling over or leaving a worker stranded at height.
Safety measures for working with ladders include ensuring that they are the right type for the job, the correct standard and size and that they are in good condition and secure.
Poorly stored equipment can cause several hazards, including slips, trips and falls. For example, when working from heights, equipment lying around on the floor that isn’t appropriately stored might not be seen and could cause a worker to trip over and fall from the edge of the platform they are working on. Therefore, any area where people are working from heights should always be kept clear and free from clutter, which will help prevent accidents.
When working from heights, it is essential to consider unguarded openings that could cause falls. Unguarded gaps in the area you are working in create serious hazards, as they act as something a person could fall through.
These openings can be protected with fall protection covers to reduce the risk they pose.
When working at height, fragile surfaces or scaffolds create potential hazards. For example, if you are working on a fragile roof, the risk is that it may collapse.
When working with scaffolds, there is the risk of it not being secure which could cause a person to fall. Therefore, these should be erected appropriately and inspected to ensure they are solid. Thorough checks should also be done when working on surfaces that may be fragile or when climbing on scaffolds.
When working at heights, where possible, employees should avoid areas where poor edge protection is present. Inadequate edge protection, this increases the risk of falling from height and presents a higher chance of the fall being fatal.
If you cannot avoid working with poor edge protection, other equipment should be used to minimise the harm potentially caused by a fall, such as a safety net or harness.
If poor or inadequate protective equipment is present when working at heights, this will increase the risks associated with falling and could lead to a fatal accident. PPE is essential as things like harnesses, ropes, hard hats and other equipment can minimise risk or lessen the severity of potential injuries.
Risk assessments allow workers to analyse potential threats. This helps people working at height be proactive and prepared with how they do the job and the protective equipment they use.
The Health and Safety Executive states that those working at heights must ‘take account of your risk assessment in organising and planning work and identifying the precautions required’. A risk assessment aims to ensure that when working at height, it is appropriately planned, done safely, and managed effectively. If risk assessments are inadequate, hazards may not be identified and safety measures might not be put in place, which could lead to an accident.
Although hazards when working at height cannot be predicted, it is crucial that when organising jobs, employees' familiarity and experience with this kind of work are assessed. This helps to ensure that those working from height are aware of potential risks, and have the training to help them deal with those dangers.
If the person working from height lacks experience, this may cause them to make fatal mistakes, leading to severe injuries for either themselves or other workers. However, with the proper training and experience, employees should be able to work safely from height with their knowledge of the job helping minimise potential threats.
Control measures must be in place when working at height to minimise risks and ensure employees are safe. You can implement sensible and appropriate steps to create a safer work environment.
Risk assessments involve careful examinations of what in the workplace could cause injury or harm to people. This allows you to weigh the risks associated with the work and whether there are enough precautions to prevent damage.
When working at height, employers must undertake risk assessments by law to ensure that plans are in place to manage potential threats. According to The Health and Safety Executive, anyone who works at heights should carry out risk assessments that:
Following these steps will help create a safer environment for all individuals working at height. Regular risk assessments also help monitor changes over time and the differences from one job to another, ensuring that health and safety measures are kept up to date.
When employers put health and safety first, this creates a better culture and safer working environment. Therefore, ensuring that everyone in the business receives the proper health and safety training is vital when working towards avoiding harm at work, particularly when working from height.
Health and safety training ensures that colleagues can look out for each other while minimising potential risks and hazards. Having employees that are up to date with health and safety training also means that they can carry out their job to the best of their ability in a safe manner.
If you want to know more about health and safety training to maintain a safer workplace, Virtual College offer a range of great training courses that will provide you with all the information you need.
One of the easiest and most effective ways of controlling the risks associated with working at heights is to work at ground level wherever possible. Using equipment that allows employees to stay on the ground removes the chances of falling, which could ultimately lead to fatalities. An example is when window cleaners use extended equipment instead of ladders.
Elevated work platforms assist when working at heights to extend to areas that are difficult to reach. Equipment such as cherry pickers and scissor lifts help the employee access a range of heights in a much safer way than using alternative methods, such as ladders.
There are still risks associated when operating elevated work platforms, as falls and machinery overturning are possible hazards of this equipment. However, when used correctly, these work platforms help to minimise many of the other risks above when working at heights, as the user is generally better protected by a guarded platform.
There are many risks associated with poorly stored equipment, so ensuring unused tools are out of the way reduces hazards significantly. Not only does proper storage prevent items from falling and causing injury, but it also reduces the risk of people slipping or tripping over objects.
Fall protection covers shield uncovered openings, so in the event of a fall, having a guard in place will lessen the impact. These covers act as a temporary platform over holes or openings and are particularly important on construction sites, where falls through trenches often occur.
Fall prevention devices or restraints, prevent the person from falling when working at height. These devices include guardrails, scaffolds, and mobile elevated work platforms.
It is important to note that fall prevention devices can degrade over time, so they should be checked regularly to ensure they are functional. Poorly reviewed equipment could cause further injury and stop the person working at height from being protected.
There is no minimum measurement when considering whether or not someone is working at height. Working at height applies if people work at any distance where they could fall to ground level or below ground level and cause injury or harm.
It is essential to constantly assess the weather conditions when working at height, as the wind, in particular, can affect a person's balance and increase the chance of falling. If winds are above 23mph, it is best to avoid working at height as it increases the likelihood of hazards such as falls and dropping items.
Toe boards are a safety precaution used by those working at height. Unlike rails, they are solid barriers that join at a right angle and have no gap. They are used to stop things from rolling or falling off the edge of platforms.
Although working at height may present one of the most significant risks in the workplace, there are plenty of simple controls you can put in place to reduce the chance of injury drastically. Risk assessments and adequate control measures help manage the hazards associated when working at height and ensure the safety of those involved, along with appropriate health and safety training that makes sure all involved employees are aware of the present risks.
If you are looking for more information regarding working at height safety and guidelines, our Working at Heights Training Course contains everything you need to know to be fully equipped in this area.