The construction industry has strict regulations regarding health and safety including guidelines for those working at height. Without proper training, workers at height are at risk, and their employers can be liable for any injury they suffer as a result. This article outlines the basics of working at heights covering current legislation and risks in the workplace.
Working at Heights Legislation
The legislation stipulates that you are legally classed as working at height if any of the following conditions are met:
- You are working above ground/floor level
- You could fall from a ledge, through an opening, or through a fragile structure
- You could fall from ground level through a hole opened into the floor
The legislation in question is known as the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and lays out the criteria employers must abide by when co-ordinating any work at height. These are relatively simple stipulations, requiring all work to be:
- Properly planned/organised
- Any equipment used is properly inspected and maintained
- The people working at height are competently trained for those purposes
- The risks involving working at the height have been properly assessed, and the appropriate equipment is selected and used
- If working near fragile surfaces, the risks thereof are properly assessed and managed
Common causes of Accidents when Working at Heights
Falls from roofs and height, in general, are the most common cause of workplace death, according to the Health & Safety Executive. Primarily, this is caused by a failure to properly assess or recognise fragile work surfaces, through which workers fall when working with them.
Rotted chipboard, glass, roof lights, corroded metal sheets, and tiles are the most likely surfaces to be fragile, so have to be assessed correctly during any risk assessments. These risks are present outside of the construction industry too, with accidents from height frequently occurring in farm buildings, warehouses, or factories when cleaning or repair work is being performed.
Basic Working at Heights Safety Principles
One of the simplest ways to avoid the risks of working at height is to make sure as much work as possible is carried out from ground level. If you don’t think you need to be at a height to do a job, there is no sense in putting anyone at risk. In these cases, a higher standard of safety can be created by providing protection from falling objects; this can be achieved through the use of Personal Protection Equipment. Safety helmets should be used when doing any work that involves elements of height.
If you can’t avoid working at height, using the correct equipment is both vital and legally required. Ideally, you should try and do the work from a place that has previously been declared safe, such as a stable roof surface. If not, then the right type of equipment to minimise the length and risks of a fall should be used, which could constitute using Collective Protection Equipment. These are safety equipment pieces that do not require the active interaction of the worker to use, such as guard rails. At greater heights, or those assessed as being particularly likely to fall from, using properly fitted harnesses to slow and stop falls is a common safety feature.
Who can work at Height
Only people who are deemed competent to work at height can do so. These are those people who have sufficient knowledge, experience, and skills to perform the task at hand. Alternately, people who are being trained to work at height are considered competent, providing they are under the supervision of someone who is appropriately trained.
The level of knowledge and skills required can depend on the risks, height, or duration of a task. Working on a ladder for half an hour, for example, would only require the person to have been given appropriate instructions for their task, and relevant training (which in this case would constitute being shown how to tie a ladder securely). More technically complicated tasks, such as planning scaffolding, require evidence for competency. Training schemes for such things are provided by various industries and are one way to provide evidence of competence.
The Health and Safety Executive offers a guide providing concise information on working at height: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg401.pdf