Working at Height - Control the Risks

Working at Height - Control the Risks

22nd April 2015

To this day, working at height is one of the most common causes of death and major injury in the workplace.  The most frequent accidents that result in fatality or life-changing injuries include falls from ladders and falls through fragile surfaces.  “Work at Height” is a term used to cover any work in a place where a person could fall a distance that is likely to cause personal injury (for example a fall through a fragile roof). 

Here in the UK, employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all of their workers and any contractors or self-employed people who work for them.  Although workers have a responsibility to take reasonable care of themselves and other people affected by their work activities, the employer still has a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

If there is any work at height to be undertaken it’s imperative that it is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people who have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job.  It’s also essential that the correct type of access equipment is used for working at height.

First of all, assess any risks paying attention to issues like the height of the task, the duration and frequency and the condition of the surface to be worked on.  Before undertaking any work at height, consider the following:

  • Avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so.
  • If work at height cannot be avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of access equipment for the job at hand.
  • Minimise the distance and consequences of a possible fall by using the right type of equipment if risk cannot be eliminated.

For each step of the work process consider any necessary measures to protect everybody who may be at risk (this is known as collective protection) before looking at measures that only protect the individual (personal protection).

Dos and Don’ts of Working at Height

DO . . . 

  • As much work as possible from a ground position
  • Make sure workers can get safety to and from where they will be working at height
  • Take extra precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
  • Make sure the equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the task at hand and that it is well maintained and checked regularly
  • Provide protection from falling objects
  • Consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures


  • Overload ladders – you must take into consideration the equipment and materials workers will need to carry and ensure that the ladder or access equipment being used is strong enough to take the weight (check the label on the ladder for information on its load bearing capacity)
  • Overreach on ladders and stepladders
  • Use ladders or stepladders for heavy tasks – they are more suitable for light work of short duration (a maximum of 30 minutes at a time)
  • Rest a ladder against weak upper surfaces such as glazing or guttering
  • Let anybody who is not competent (one who does not have the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to do the job) work at height.