What is Considered to be Work at Height?

What is Considered to be Work at Height?

17th April 2019

Working at height is still the most common cause of death and injury in the workplace, despite the stringent legislation that’s designed to make working at height safer.  This is because it’s nigh on impossible to eliminate all the risks involved with working at height, just as it’s impossible to avoid the requirement to work at height in every case.  Falling from ladders, work platforms and through unstable surfaces still occur, leading to life changing injuries or, in the worst cases, death.

Working at height can be defined as working in a place where, if no precautions were taken, a person could fall and suffer an injury.  Even working just above ground or floor level is considered working at height – the distance between the working surface and the floor does not matter – you can fall from a chair or the first few steps of a ladder and still sustain a serious injury under some circumstances.  If you’re working at ground level next to an opening that you could fall into, that’s classed as working at height.  However, navigating permanent staircases is not working at height as defined by work at height regulations, neither is a slip or trip at ground level (though these can cause serious injuries).

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR 2005) apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall and provide guidance and list duties for employers and anybody else who controls work at height (such as facility managers, building owners).  The Regulations require that all work at height is planned and organised properly.

Each work at height scenario requires a full risk assessment to be carried out.  The risk of an accident should be controlled by providing the right type of access equipment and safety measures.  The safety measures should first and foremost protect everybody who is at risk (this is known as collective protection) and these include permanent guard rails, scaffolding or work platforms (mobile or static, depending on the circumstances).   Once the collective protection measures have been considered, it’s time to think about measures which will protect the individual (personal protective equipment, or PPE), which may include a harness, restraint or fall arrest system.

When it comes to working on or near fragile surfaces (such as flat roofs), the risks must be managed properly and equipment provided that would reduce or eliminate the risks.  This equipment may include demarcation barrier systems that would prevent access to fragile surface and other areas of risk, guardrails and rooftop walkways designed to spread the weight.  All such equipment must be inspected and maintained on a regular basis. 

Those who are expected to work at height should undertake training for the type of work involved and the type of safety equipment that is used.  This is also the responsibility of the employer, duty holder or building owner.