Working at height carries a great deal of risk: it’s responsible for 28% of fatal and 7% of non-fatal injuries to workers, according to the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Due to this increased risk, you, as an employer, need to ensure that your staff are able to undertake this work in the safest way possible. In this guide, we will take you through the Working at Height Regulations, as well as helping you find the right training and equipment solutions for your business.
We will cover:
Any task where one of your employees could fall from one level to another and injure themselves is classed as work at a height. This includes work:
It’s important to note that tasks with the risk of slips and trips on the ground or floor are not classed as work at height, nor is work that involves a permanent staircase in a building.
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is a government act that dictates how work at a height should be planned and carried out, with the main aim of preventing deaths and injuries. It came into force on 6 April 2005. Like other health and safety legislation, an employer who is found to have breached these regulations is considered to have broken the law.
The Work at Height Regulations apply to all employers and those who control work at height (for example, a building owner who hires contractors), as well as people who are self-employed.
It should also be noted that, alongside those who control work at height, workers also have certain responsibilities that are set out by the act. See our employee responsibility section for more details.
To comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005, you will need to fulfil the hierarchy it sets out for you as an employer or controller of work. These are:
When work at a height must take place, you must assume the following responsibilities:
A ‘competent’ person for work at height is someone with the right skills, knowledge, and experience to safely carry out the job. If you have an employee who is currently training, their work at height will need to be supervised by someone who has already attained a high level of competence. As an employer, you have a responsibility to make sure that all work at height is planned, supervised, and carried out by a competent person.
The level of competence required depends on the complexity of the job. For low-risk, short-duration (less than 30 minutes) work at a height with a ladder, your staff may only need basic training in how to use the equipment safely. In these cases, instruction can usually be provided on the job.
For more technical tasks where a high level of competence is required, you will need to make sure that your employee’s training is up to scratch. A good way of providing a high standard of instruction is to allow your competent person(s) to attend trade or industry association training courses or to get themselves certified.
You can find out more about how to appoint a competent person in your workforce by reading the HSE’s guidance on competence.
While the bulk of responsibilities set out in the Work at Height Regulations fall to you, the employer, your employees also have legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and other people who may be at risk due to their actions. They also have an obligation to co-operate with the health and safety measures that you put in place.
The Regulations require staff to report any safety hazard to you as soon as they notice it, so it can be remedied as soon as possible. They must also use the safety equipment that you supply in the way that they have been instructed in their training.
It’s a good idea to keep an open dialogue with your employees on health and safety matters, to promote an open working environment. You need to speak to them directly — or through an appointed or elected health and safety representative — about the risks and safety measures related to working at height. The Regulations set out requirements for issues you need to consult with your workforce on risk management:
If you’re looking for more information about how to bring your staff into the health and safety process, the HSE has detailed guidance about consulting and involving your workers that you should read.
You should assess the risks associated with any work at height, as this will allow you to follow the hierarchy set out by the Regulations.
You could integrate this into a wider risk assessment of your working environment (as required by health and safety law), or you could carry out a one-off assessment for a specific work at height job.
As part of any risk assessment you carry out, you should:
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a useful guide on what the law requires from a risk assessment and how you should carry one out.
During your risk assessment process, you will have identified the risks around work at height that will need to be addressed to protect your staff and anyone else present in your place of work.
Let’s take a look at how you can identify the best option for reducing risk. For each potential task your workers may have to carry out at a height, you can work through the following questions to find the most appropriate measures to put in place.
You should always attempt to eliminate the need to work at height — this should take priority over other protective measures.
If you aren’t able to eliminate the need for work at height, the next solution to consider is how you can ensure potential falls are prevented when it is being carried out.
Should there be no way of removing the risk of a fall when working at height, you will need to find ways to cut the distance of a fall or severely reduce the consequences should one occur.
When your safety measures are in place and you’ve sourced or installed the correct equipment, you can begin to plan your work at height. The Regulations require you to do this in a proper and thorough manner. You must:
When you have settled on the measure you need to take against a risk, you need to select the right working at height equipment to ensure that it is eliminated or reduced.
There are two types of protective equipment that you can opt for:
You should always prioritise collective protection over personal protection. This way, you can ensure that everyone involved is protected from the risk of a fall and remove any chance for human error.
When it comes to selecting your safety equipment, the Work at Height Regulations require you to provide the most suitable option for the work. You also need to think about how working conditions, such as weather or lighting, could affect its use, and whether it will stand up to the nature, frequency, and duration of the work at height.
If you need more guidance on which type of equipment you need for your work at height, the HSE have produced the Work At Height Access Equipment Information Toolkit (WAIT), which is an online tool that can suggest possible solutions.
The Work at Height Regulations have specific requirements for ladder and stepladder safety. Despite what you may have heard, ladders and stepladders aren’t banned for work at height, but they should only be used for low-risk, short-duration tasks. They also should only be used and checked by a competent person with the proper training.
The user needs to carry out a safety check before using the ladder, as well as after any events that may have compromised its safety; for example, if they are dropped or have been in storage for a long time. The check will allow the user to spot any faults before use.
For leaning ladders, a check should make sure:
For stepladders, a check should make sure:
The HSE has published a more detailed ladder and stepladder safety guide that covers essential checks, as well as how your workforce should use them correctly.
When considering ways to reduce the risk of working at height, it’s important that you don’t overlook the usefulness of mechanical lifting equipment. The right machinery can be a reliable way to eliminate the need or severely reduce the level of risk.
Here at Penny Hydraulics, we design and manufacture a range of bespoke mechanical lifting equipment that can make work at height much safer. For example:
This type of mechanical lifting equipment can be an essential investment if your business operation requires work at height on a regular basis, so it’s well worth considering them as a solution.
The Work at Height Regulations require you to make sure that safety equipment is well maintained so it always in the best condition and ready to use. Doing so will ensure that your workers are not put at risk through defective equipment.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) requires that employers ensure that all employees using or supervising the use of work equipment have received adequate training in method, risk, and precautions associated with that equipment. You can find out more about these Regulations in our guide to PUWER.
With this in mind, if you’re looking to invest in new lifting equipment it’s worth looking for a provider who can deliver a high standard of training in their products, too. Here at Penny Hydraulics, we offer a comprehensive product familiarisation service that can ensure your staff know what they are doing when operating our machinery.
Consider and implement the advice in this guide to comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and ensure your work is properly planned and executed.
If you have any questions about the areas we’ve covered in this guide or need help choosing the right lifting equipment for your business, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Please remember that the advice in this guide is not comprehensive and you should always refer to the Health and Safety Executive for full guidance on work at height.