25th July 2019
Take a Moment, Not a Fall – The Importance of Safety When Working at Height

It’s no secret that working in the construction sector carries more risk than many other types of employment. Indeed, a recent report named it Britain’s most dangerous industry, with 382 recorded workplace deaths in the last 10 years. One of the main reasons for this is that it involves significantly more work at height than other industries; between 2013-18, 47% of fatal construction accidents were the result of falls from height. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work at height as “work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”. There is actually no minimum height requirement, as the definition includes falls from ground level through openings or holes in the floor.

While it is true that the introduction of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 has helped many employers and contractors to manage and minimise the risks of this type of work, and the UK now has one of the lowest rates of workplace fatalities and injuries in Europe, 40 UK workers still tragically died in 2018-19 after falling from a height. A report published earlier this year by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Working at Height made it clear that more needs to be done, and produced a series of recommendations aiming to decrease the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by falls from height.

Understanding the legislation

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 impose a series of responsibilities on all employers and self-employed people who perform or oversee this type of work. They state that anybody performing or overseeing work at height must do all they can to mitigate the risks, including avoiding it altogether unless it is absolutely necessary. Where it is unavoidable, the place of work at height must be comprehensively risk assessed and measures put in place to minimise the risk of injury, for example having a protective guardrail in place, and ensuring that workers are trained, competent and using appropriate safety equipment.

More generally, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 stipulates that employers have a duty to provide their employees with the training they need to provide a safe working environment. Essentially, to comply effectively with legislative requirements, employers must ensure that all work at height is properly planned, supervised, and carried out by trained and competent people. To help employers stay on the right side of the law and keep their workers safe, HSE offers a range of comprehensive guidance and advice on its website.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Planning is an absolutely essential component of any work at height. Regulation Four of the Work at Height Regulations states that all work at height should be properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out as safely as possible. This includes the selection of appropriate, high-quality and well-fitting protective equipment. According to HSE, employers should include the following elements (among others) in their plans for projects at height:

  • Weather conditions
  • Inspection of both the place of work at height and protective equipment
  • Protection from falling objects
  • Safe storage of materials
  • Emergency rescue procedures

Trained and competent workers

Regulation Five of the Work at Height Regulations states that no worker should carry out work at height unless they are fully trained and competent to do so, or unless supervised by somebody with the requisite training and qualifications. Depending on the technical expertise required by the job at hand and the level of risk, this training could be as simple as an on-the-job demonstration of how to correctly use safety equipment or, where more complex knowledge and expertise is needed, an industry-approved training course culminating in a recognised qualification may sufficiently demonstrate competence.

Make sure you’re correctly insured

While employers should do everything in their power to mitigate the risks of working at height, accidents do happen. Therefore, it’s important for employers and contractors to have the correct insurance when carrying out this type of work. The additional risk involved in working at height means that a specialist insurance policy is often required, as most general Public and Employers Liability policies include height and depth limits in their wording.