Working at Height
Falls from Height remain the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of major injury. Sadly, most of these injuries could have been prevented if the necessary precautions had been put in place. All work at heights at the University must be risk assessed, for further information contact HSS on 3847 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- What is Working at Height?
- Regulations Hierarchy
- Rules to Prevent Falls
- Selecting Access Equipment
- Ladder Safety
- Safe Working Platforms
- Mobile and Suspended Access Equipment
- Safety Harnesses
- Protection Against Falling Materials
- Further Guidance
According to the Work at Height Regulations 2005 a place is 'at height' if a person could be injured falling from it, even if it is at or below ground level and 'work' includes moving around at a place of work (except by a staircase in a permanent workplace).
The Working at Height Regulations require employers to do everything reasonably practicable to prevent anyone falling whilst carry out work activities. The basic hierarchical management process for managing working at height is:
- Avoid working at height.
- Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls if working at height can't be avoided.
- If there is still a risk of a fall use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur e.g. netting.
Note: collective measures should always take priority over personal measures e.g. guardrails rather than safety harnesses.
The following points should be considered when working at height:
- Don't work at height unless it is essential to do so and the only means of carrying out the work.
- Properly plan for and organise all working at height.
- Those involved in working at height are trained and competent to do so.
- Appropriate supervision is provided.
- The place where working at height is taking place is safe e.g. no overhead cables, fragile surfaces, risk of falling objects, stable ground, sufficient working space, no risk of someone / something impacting into access equipment e.g. ladders.
- Equipment is suitable for the task it is being used e.g. will support the weight of the workers using it and any materials and equipment they are likely to use or store on it, can be adequately secured.
- Equipment is regularly inspected and maintained in accordance with recommendations.
- Assess weather conditions before working at height takes place.
- Emergency procedures are in place and communicated to all staff involved with the work.
If you need to occasionally work at height, and aren't sure about which access equipment to use, the HSE have a step by step guide to selecting the correct access equipment for the job. It gives users practical advice and guidance on the factors to consider when selecting access equipment for planned work at height.
The nature and duration of the work and the risks involved with erecting, as well as using the access equipment, will all influence the selection of the equipment to be used. Traditionally much work has been done from scaffolding, but other means of access equipment such as MEWPs, tower scaffolds, personal suspension equipment (such as rope access techniques and boatswain's chairs) and various types of ladders are available.
The following need to be considered when selecting access equipment to a workplace:
- Available space on site. Each type of platform requires minimum amounts of space, e.g. MEWPS and Access Towers need outriggers - is there room for them?
- The type of work to be carried out, e.g. will it require heavy loads on the platform?
- How long will the work last?
- What risks will there be during erection of the platform?
- Once erected how difficult will it be to maintain the platform?
- How many people will need to use the equipment?
- Can the equipment be stabilised, e.g. can the scaffold, Access Tower be tied?
- Can part of the structure can be provided early in the work so that there is a permanent working platform.
When selecting a means of access, remember:
- Only when it is not practicable to provide a work platform with guard rails, should other means of access (e.g. boatswain's chairs, rope access techniques, nets) be used.
- If no other means of providing a safe place of work at height is available, then appropriately anchored harnesses should be worn. However, whenever harnesses are used a method must be available to enable people to be rescued should they fall and be left suspended in their harness.
- Ladders should always be secured if possible. They should be primarily used for access and only be used as workplaces to do light, short duration work, and then only if it is safe to do so. It is generally safer to use a tower scaffold or MEWP even for short-term work. Heavy work activity such as drilling or carrying heavy loads should never be carried out from a ladder. When using a ladder ensure that the person on the ladder maintains three points of contact, i.e. both legs and a hand. People should never have to lean sideways when up a ladder.
- Consider all the risks e.g. , if nets are selected, is there adequate clearance under the nets to prevent injury to those who may fall into them? If harnesses are used, is there sufficient clearance from the ground to allow the shock absorbing lanyard or inertia reel to fully extend?
- Check there is adequate clearance for equipment e.g. , overhead power lines can be a risk when erecting scaffolds or using MEWPs; there can be a risk of crushing against nearby structures when mobile access platforms are manoeuvred.
- Always consider who else uses the area e.g. is the work area near a main entrance with lots of people coming and going?
Working platforms are the parts of structures, MEWPs, access towers etc which people stand on whilst working. As well as being adequately supported and provided with guard rails or barriers, working platforms should:
- Be a minimum of 600mm wide and / or wide enough to allow people to pass back and forth safely and to use any equipment or material necessary for the work.
- Free of openings and traps through which people's feet could get caught, causing them to trip, fall or be injured.
- Constructed to prevent materials from falling through. As well as toe boards or similar protection at the edge of the platform, the platform itself should be constructed to prevent any object which may be used on the platform from falling through gaps or holes, causing injury to people working below.
- Kept free of trip and slip hazards, keep platforms clean and tidy and do not allow mud to build up on them. Where necessary, provide handholds and footholds.
Where it is not possible to work from the existing structure and the use of a scaffold working platform is not appropriate, a range of mobile access equipment including, Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWPs), suspended cradles, mast climbing work platforms (MCWPs), boatswain's chairs or seats, and rope access equipment can be used.
Anyone using this type of equipment should be trained and competent to operate it, in some cases more than one person will be needed to operate it. In addition, operators should understand the emergency and evacuation procedures.
Before work starts
- A handover certificate is provided by the installer. The certificate should cover how to deal with emergencies, operate, check and maintain the equipment, and state its safe working load.
- Equipment is installed, modified and dismantled only by competent specialists.
- There is a current report of thorough examination for the equipment.
- Only fully trained, competent staff operate the equipment.
- The ground is firm and level and equipment tyres are properly inflated
- A harness with a fall restraint lanyard attached to the MEWP platform is used.
- Areas of the site where people may be struck by the platform or falling materials have been barriered off. Debris fans or covered walkways may also be required.
- Systems are in place to prevent people within the building being struck by the platform as it rises or descends and prevent the platform coming into contact with open windows or similar obstructions which could cause it to tip.
- Supports e.g. outriggers are extended properly and chocked. In addition, they must be protected from damage (e.g. by being struck by passing vehicles or by interference from vandals).
- The equipment can be protected from adverse weather. High winds can tilt platforms and make them unstable. Establish a maximum safe wind speed for operation. Storms and snow falls can also damage platforms, so they should be inspected before use after severe weather.
- Emergency procedures are in place and communicated to all relevant staff
At the end of each day
- The platform is cleared of tools and equipment.
- All power has been switched off and, where appropriate, power cables have been isolated and secured.
- The equipment is secured where it will not be accessible to vandals or trespassers.
- Notices are attached to the equipment warning that it is out of service and must not be used.
- Check the shift report for warnings of malfunction etc.
Providing a safe place of work and system of work to prevent falls should always be the first consideration. However, there may be instances when it is not practicable for all or any of the requirements for guard rails etc to be provided (e.g. , where guard rails are taken down for short periods to land materials). If people can still approach an open edge from which they could fall, other forms of protection will be needed. In some cases, a suitably attached harness and temporary horizontal lifeline could allow safe working.
When using harnesses and temporary horizontal lifelines, remember:
- Harnesses and lanyards are made of man-made fibres and prone to degradation by sunlight, chemicals etc. It is important to carry out tactile pre-use checks daily and in good light, before using harnesses and lanyards and if there is the slightest doubt about a harness or lanyard, do not use it. Faults can be noticed by discolouration, little tears and nicks, grittiness to touch etc.
- Any equipment which is not safe to use must be removed from service and clearly identifiable that it must not be used.
- A harness will not prevent a fall but will minimise the risk of injury if there is a fall. The person who falls may be injured by the impact load to the body when the line goes tight or when they strike against parts of the structure during the fall. An energy absorber fitted to the energy-absorbing lanyard can reduce the risk of injury from impact loads.
- Minimise free-fall distance. Keep anchors as high as possible, reducing fall distances, the attachment point must also be capable of withstanding the impact load in the event of a fall. Where possible the energy-absorbing lanyard should also be attached above the wearer.
- Systems should be in place to recover anyone who does fall.
- Anyone who needs to attach themselves should be able to do so from a safe position. They need to be able to attach themselves before they move into a position where they are relying on the protection provided by the harness.
- There must be an adequate fall height to allow the system to deploy and arrest the fall.
- A twin lanyard may be necessary if the wearer needs to move about. A twin lanyard allows the wearer to clip on one lanyard in a different position before unclipping the other lanyard.
- Installation of equipment to which harnesses will be fixed, e.g. an anchor, must be supervised by a suitably qualified person. The anchors must also be formally checked to ensure loadings are sufficient before being used for the first time.
- Everyone using a harness must know how to check, wear and adjust it before use and how to connect themselves to the structure or safety line as appropriate.
- Harnesses and lanyards must be thoroughly examined periodically, and / or as a minimum every six months.
The risk of falling materials causing injury should be minimised by keeping working platforms clear of loose materials. In addition, provide a way of preventing materials or other objects rolling, or being kicked, off the edges of platforms. This may be done with toe boards, solid barriers, brick guards etc at open edges. If the scaffold is erected in a public place, nets, fans or covered walkways may be needed to give extra protection for people who may be passing below. High-visibility barrier netting is not suitable for use as a fall prevention device.
The HSE has produced a number of documents on preventing falls from heights. These should be assessed when preparing your risk assessment and it is noted that the standards set by the HSE in its publications are those which the University expects all to adhere to.
- The Working at Heights Regulations (free download)
- Health and Safety in Roofwork (free download)
- Working at heights in the theatre (free download)
- Safe design and build of production sets used for film and television (free download)
- Preventing Falls in Agriculture (free download)