Work at Height Mythbusters

Work at Height Mythbusters

16th October 2014

More than a million British businesses and 10 million employees carry out tasks that involve some type of work at height every year.  With falls still constituting one of the most common causes of death and serious injury in the workplace, it’s essential to be familiar with the updated guidelines on working at height published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  You may be surprised to learn that there are a number of myths surrounding working at height so we’ve put together a handy myth buster blogpost.

MYTH – You need a formal qualification before using a ladder at work.

TRUTH – No you don’t need a qualification – but you do need to be competent.  Competence means possessing the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to use a ladder properly and safely for the task you need to carry out.  If you’re still undergoing training, it’s essential that you are supervised by somebody who can perform the task.  With so much training taking place on the job, rather than in a classroom, it’s important for trainees to be able to apply what they learn in the workplace.

MYTH – The HSE has banned the use of ladders for accessing scaffolding and those who ignore the ban will be fined.

TRUTH – This is not the case.  Ladders are fine to use for access so long as they are of the correct type (that is a suitable grade of industrial ladder), in good condition and securely tied off to prevent movement.  Any ladder used to access scaffolding should extend at least one metre above the landing point to ensure that there is a secure handhold when stepping off the ladder.

MYTH – The HSE has banned the use of ladders on building sites.

TRUTH – This is not true – the HSE has not banned ladders on buildings sites.  Ladders and stepladders can often be the most sensible and practical method of gaining access.  They are appropriate for working at height when the use of other access equipment cannot be justified due to the low risk and short duration (short duration is classed as working on a ladder for no longer than 30 minutes).  Ladders are also recommended when there are existing site or workplace features that cannot be changed.

MYTH – Walking up and down stairs at work counts as work at height.

TRUTH – Work at height does not include the use of permanent staircases in a building.

MYTH – If you are working on a ladder you should always have both feet and one hand on the ladder at all times, even when carrying out a job.

TRUTH – This is not the case.  You will often need to have both hands free in order to carry out a task (for example hanging wallpaper, putting a box onto a shelf, installing a smoke detector on a ceiling) while using a ladder.  However, you do need to ensure that you always have three points of contact with the ladder in your working position – this can mean both feet and your body (using your chest or knees to maintain stability) supported by the ladder.  Always make sure that there is a handhold available to steady yourself with before and after completing the task at hand.