Working at height – The rules

Simple measures to reduce the risks of working at height in your workplace

One of the biggest causes of deaths in the workplace is falls from working at height. To combat this problem, companies must comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR). This article is an introduction to these regulations.

What is working at height?

As far as the regulations are concerned, working at height takes place where “if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”. What this really means is that you are working at height if you:

  • Are working above ground or floor level; and
  • You could fall from an edge, or through an opening or fragile surface (such as a roof); or
  • You could fall into a hole or opening at ground or floor level

Notice that the danger is falling, and not slipping or tripping. It also doesn’t include the need to walk up and down a permanent staircase.

What do the rules require you to do?

There are three things that the Work at Height Regulations stipulate you must do:

  • Avoid working at height whenever it can be avoided.
  • If working at height cannot be avoided, ensure that safety precautions have been taken to avoid falls – i.e. providing/using the right equipment and ensuring that safety precautions (such as barriers and safety rails) are in place.
  • If the risk cannot be eliminated, ensure the right equipment is used to minimise the consequences of a fall.

How can you comply with the regulations?

You should have a good understanding of the regulations to comply with them, and concentrate your efforts into two distinct areas:

1.      Risk assessment of working at height

As a starting point, you should carry out an HSE risk assessment  to identify specific risks and measures you can take to minimise them. You may need to consider factors such as:

  • Weather
  • Situation (e.g. roof or gantry)
  • Storage of materials
  • Protection from falling materials

Then you should:

  • Do as much work as possible on the ground or floor level
  • Ensure that your employees can get to and from their point of work at height safely
  • Provide suitable equipment that is fit for purpose
  • Never overload or overreach
  • Take precautions when working on fragile surfaces
  • Protect people from falling objects
  • Ensure that you have procedures for emergency evacuation

Training should be provided to all employees who may be required to work at height.

2.      Who can work at height

Only allow competent people to work at height. This means only those with the necessary knowledge and experience to do the task required. If someone is being trained, they must be supervised always.

Training should be provided as necessary. Such training may include ensuring competence with equipment, and often takes place on the job. Where more in-depth skills are needed, competence to work at height may require certification (for example, for those assembling scaffolding).

Who does the Work at Height Regulations apply to?

If you are an employer or a person who controls work at height – for example, a factory owner or contractor – you are legally obliged to comply with the WAHR. However, it should also be noted that employees cannot escape some responsibility. Indeed, you should ensure that your employees have a legal duty to:

  • Report hazards or potential hazards to you
  • Use equipment and safety devices that you supply (again, you should ensure that they have been trained to do so)

Involve your employees with H&S

Good working practice is to get your employees engaged in H&S issues in the workplace. Ask them what they consider to be the risks, and how they would propose to make the workplace safer. Work together to produce an effective health and safety policy, including compliance with the law on working at height.

Our comprehensive suite of H&S documents will help you stay compliant with all Health and Safety laws. They are easy to use, maintain, and access, and can be branded for your business. For more information, contact Sentry today – and be proactive in reducing the risks of working at height in your business.

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