Working at height isn’t common in many industries, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an essential consideration for employers. Even in office environments, the laws surrounding working at height might apply, such as when an employee needs to use a ladder to change a lightbulb or if they are putting up Christmas decorations.
Working at Height laws are not generally restrictive, and are designed primarily to ensure that people don’t get hurt in the workplace. In this article, we’re going to highlight the key pieces of legislation for working at height, explain who needs to be aware of these regulations, and explore how you can ensure you adhere to them.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, working at height is a term that describes “work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”. This usually refers to work that takes place above ground level, but can also refer to work where someone could fall through an opening or fragile surface to a level beneath them.
There are no restrictions around how high up you need to be or how far you could fall for a task to be classed as ‘working at height’. The only other factor to consider is that a ‘fall from height’ doesn’t include tripping or slipping over if you stay at the same level.
There are two pieces of main legislation for working at height; one that specifically covers the regulations and procedures needed for this kind of work, and the other that is a more general piece of legislation about staying safe in the workplace.
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 significant to most employers and HR departments. There is also a dedicated section for those working on platforms and scaffolding.
One of the most important aspects of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is Regulation 4, which outlines employer responsibilities for businesses that require working from height. All employers need to ensure that any work done at height is:
The Working at Height Regulations requirements also specify that employees carrying out work from height need to be ‘competent’ which often means giving them relevant health and safety training.
Risk assessments are a necessary part of working from height, according to these regulations. Before any control measures are put in place, a risk assessment must first be conducted to help identify hazards that are present and provide a record of the steps that have been taken to keep employees safe.
Another key part of this legislation is Regulation 6, which outlines how the removal of risk should be approached.
First, employers are advised to conduct as much work as possible on ground level, then they are advised to implement measures that will prevent falls, and after that, they are required to provide equipment that will minimise the distance and impact of a potential fall. Following this order of working at height control measures means that the only tasks that take place at height are absolutely necessary, which minimises the number of accidents that happen.
The biggest piece of health and safety legislation in the workplace is The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This law makes it a legal responsibility for employers to make their workplaces safe for employees and any members of the public that come into contact with the environment.
This piece of workplace health and safety legislation is very comprehensive and covers a wide range of topics, but one of the main points is that employers must “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”. This involves keeping the workplace safe, ensuring that equipment is safe, providing training and providing safety equipment that minimises risk.
In terms of safety rules for working at height, this means that:
Employees also have responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which are primarily to “take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons” and “co-operate with [their employer] so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with”. This means that the legal regulations for working at height also apply to the people doing the work and mean that they are responsible for keeping themselves and their colleagues safe.
The practical application of this working at height regulation is that employees must use the safety equipment provided by their employer when they’re carrying out tasks at height. They also need to remember and follow and guidance they were given during health and safety training and be as mindful as possible of their surroundings so that they don’t cause anyone else to fall.
If you are an employer whose employees have to work at height at any time, the regulations apply to you. You must conduct risk assessments and take the necessary precautions to ensure that any employees working at height are safe.
Similarly, employees have a responsibility to follow instructions and keep themselves and their colleagues safe. If any staff are required to work from height as part of their job, they should be given training to inform them of the correct safety procedures when working at height, along with any necessary PPE.
Working at height legislation outlines 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.
The first, and easiest step in working safely at height is to avoid it where possible, which is a key process outlined in the Work at Height Regulations. 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.
If 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.
It may be the case that carrying out a working at height risk assessment beforehand is beneficial when it comes to minimising risk at work, as this will help you pull together all of the relevant potential hazards. A risk assessment for working at height will also help you identify the risks that are most likely to happen and which could cause the most damage, which gives you a list of priorities to tackle to make working at height safe for employees.
Depending on your circumstances, a risk assessment may be mandatory before any work at height can take place.
Once you’ve identified how 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. 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.
The working at height hierarchy of control should be used to put other preventative measures in place before you consider how you can reduce injury if a fall does occur. However, you should still use these safety measures as a way of mitigating the risks of working at height, as they can be the difference between minor and serious injuries.
Many people assume that there is a specific height that you have to be above in order for the work you’re doing to be considered as ‘working at height’. This is not the case however; the only condition for working at height is if you are working above ground level, floor level, or are in a place where you could fall through an opening or surface to a level below.
The Working at Height Regulations were first published in 2005 and were then updated in 2007 with The Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007. These amendments only made minor changes to the guidance given however, but the most current version of the legislation was updated in 2007.
The Working at Height Regulations requirements apply to any equipment that is used when carrying out tasks that are done at height. This includes but is not limited to, ladders, scaffolding, mobile elevated working platforms, trestles, stepladders, safety rails, harnesses and surface coverings.
The Working at Height Regulations are an essential piece of health and safety legislation if you’re an employer whose staff carry out work at height, or an employee that completes tasks at height as part of your job. By following the guidance in this legislation and implementing work at height control measures, you’ll minimise the risk of injury caused by falling from a height and help to keep the workplace as safe as possible, in line with other essential health and safety legislation.
If you’d like to find out more about the legal requirements of working at height, we offer an online ‘Working at Heights Training’ course that is a great introduction to safely working in all kinds of scenarios that involve tasks at height.