What you need to know about working at heights

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and serious injuries. The Government has intervened and debated the topic in parliament to help those working in these highly dangerous settings. Here’s what you need to know about those working in these conditions and what can be done to make it safer for everyone involved.

What is considered ‘working at height’?

Put simply, you are working at height if you are working above ground or floor level. You are likely working at height if you meet one of the following criteria set out by the HSE:

  • Are working on a ladder or a flat roof
  • Could fall through a fragile surface
  • Could fall into an opening

Common accidents for work at heights

Some of the most common causes of accidents when working from height stem from roof work. In this line of work, people can fall from roofs or fall through fragile roofs, which can leading to serious or fatal injuries. Therefore, it’s considered high risk. This isn’t limited to roofs of houses either – accidents happen when workers are on the roofs of factories or farm buildings too. Working with fragile roofs has its own set of safety guidelines that workers in this field should follow.

Other accidents from working at height can arise when using ladders and stepladders, or work platforms involving cherry-pickers, scaffolding or scissor lifts.

Safety tips you should be aware of

The first thing to consider is whether work can be completed from ground level, otherwise, the HSE provides advice on how to work safely at height with a clear guide for employers and employees. This includes:

  • Being aware of weather conditions
  • Assessing whether the place where the work will take place is safe
  • Using exclusion zones or mesh to stop materials such as bricks falling off if working on a roof
  • Storing materials and objects safely
  • Assessing whether any equipment or machinery is in good condition
  • Having an emergency plan e.g. evacuation or rescue

A clear, comprehensive risk assessment should be carried out before work begins. This will give workers the chance to compile and provide the necessary PPE. Examples might include a safety helmet, as well as a safety harness and energy-absorbing lanyard that’s attached to a sufficient anchor point. Good quality ropes are regularly used to help with safety when working at height.

Collective protection is crucial, with employees looking out for one another. Accidents should be reported quickly and correctly if they arise. All staff should be highly trained in these high-risk work environments. Only staff who are competent should be working at height, particularly in high-risk scenarios.