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Last updated: 06.09.17

Working at Height - Law and Regulations

Working at height isn’t common in many industries, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important consideration for employers. Even in office environments, the laws surrounding working at height might apply if, for instance, an employee needs to use a ladder to change a lightbulb, or even if they are putting up Christmas decorations. Working at Height law is not generally restrictive, and is designed primarily to ensure that people don’t get hurt in the workplace. In this article, we’re going to cover who needs to be aware of these regulations, and how you can ensure you adhere to them.

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Your Responsibilities and the Law

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 are the main pieces of legislation that govern this type of work. They are designed entirely to prevent injuries, and in the worst case scenario, even death. The legislation is not complex, and contains various sections that are of importance to differing types of work. For example, there is a section that deals exclusively with ladders, which will be of significance to most employers and HR departments, but there is also a dedicated section for those working on platforms and scaffolding.

If you are an employer, and any of your employees have to work at height at any time, then the regulations apply to you. You must conduct risk assessments and take the necessary precautions. Similarly, employees have a responsibility to follow instruction, and keep themselves and their colleagues safe. If you are in any doubt at all, then consult written documentation written by, or get in contact with, the Health and Safety Executive.

How to Work at Height Safely

There are three main steps to working safely at height. Once you’ve understood any regulations that are specific to your industry (if any), these steps will help you avoid falling injuries in the workplace. It may be the case that carrying out a working at height risk assessment beforehand is beneficial, as this will help you pull together all of the relevant considerations. Depending on your circumstances, it may be mandatory.

The three steps to reducing the likelihood of workplace injuries as a result of falls are as follows:

Risk Avoidance

The first, and easiest step in working safely at height is to avoid it where possible. In some cases, it will of course be impossible not to climb a ladder or ascend a platform, but there are many solutions out there to help some jobs be carried out from ground level. For example, if you’re trying to clean windows, or reach products down from a high rack, there may be tools available that mean climbing a ladder is unnecessary. Even using a forklift truck to reach pallets down may be safer than climbing racking to reach high stock. Always look for opportunities to make the task safer.

Risk Minimisation

If it is essential that you or one of your employees must work at height, then you should take all possible precautions to reduce the risk of falling. There are many, many ways this can be done, ranging from reducing the time spent working at height, to having guard rails and other barriers on platforms. Having specific guards in place for specific jobs is the best way of making sure that injuries do not occur. Ladders are a fairly common piece of equipment in the workplace, and can be made safer by being regularly checked for condition, and ensuring that staff that use them know how to do so properly.

Fall Injury Reduction

Once you’ve identified the ways in which you can prevent or reduce the risk of falls from occurring, you should also consider what you can do to reduce the risk of injury when a fall does occur. This may not be something that you can do, as may be the case when working with smaller step ladders and stools, but it is a very important consideration for those working on platforms at significant heights. For example, workers may be required to wear harnesses that prevent a fall to the floor, or safety nets can be put in place to catch anyone in case they lose their footing. These considerations are serious, and very thorough risk assessments must be carried out.

For more information about the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and other tips on safe workplaces, consult the HSE website.

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