Lauren O’Connor of Zoro, a specialist tool and site safety retailer, takes a closer look at the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and examines some common misconceptions about working at height
Here in the UK, working at a height is one of the most dangerous parts of any job: it’s responsible for 28% of fatal and 7% of non-fatal injuries in working environments, according to statistics from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Not only is there a risk of falling, but also any objects dropped from a work area at height can cause injury to those below.
Because of the level of risk, the government has specific rules for businesses where staff work at height. It’s imperative that these are followed, so I’m going to provide a detailed overview of what they are and what you need to do.
What are the Work at Height Regulations 2005?
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is a set of rules that must be followed when any work is undertaken at a height with the aim of preventing deaths and injuries. They are mandatory for all employers and people who control work at height, and are enforceable by law. There is also provision within the rules that sets out responsibilities that employees must know.
The regulations define work at height as any task where there is a risk of staff falling from one level to another. This includes work above the ground or floor, near an edge where someone could fall through an opening or surface, and at ground level where someone could fall through an opening.
What do I need to do to comply with the regulations?
There are quite a few things you need to do to ensure that you are fully compliant with the regulations as an employer or controller of work at height.
The first thing you need to do is ensure you follow the hierarchy that the rules set out:
- Avoid any work at height if at all possible.
- When work at height is unavoidable, you need to do everything reasonably expected to eliminate the risks to employees.
- When it’s impossible to eliminate risk, you have to take steps to minimise the distance and consequences of any potential fall.
Next, you need to be aware of your responsibilities when work at a height must take place:
- You must undertake a risk assessment: This can be done as part of a wider risk assessment or as a one-off for a specific task. You will need to identify any hazards and who may be affected then assess the level of risk and come up with suitable precautions. You will need to make a record of your findings if you have more than five employees.
- You must manage any risks identified: You need to put the measures to eliminate or reduce the risks you’ve identified into action. The HSE has guidelines for risk assessment and management that you should read.
- You need to ensure that any staff undertaking work at height are competent: A ‘competent’ person is someone who has the skills, knowledge and experience to safely complete the task. The level of competence needed depends on the job. For example, simple tasks need basic training, but more technical tasks need a high degree of training and experience. You can find out more about this in the HSE’s guide to competence.
- You must ensure work at height is planned: You need to plan all aspects of any job at height, making considerations for factors like weather, management of tools and materials, and safety of workspace, as well as procedures for rescue or emergencies.
- You must provide appropriate equipment and ensure it is used: Proper safety equipment is essential for managing risk and you need to choose the best option for the job. Collective protection that guards everyone, such as a guard rail, should be prioritised over personal protection equipment (PPE) that safeguards the individual, like a safety harness. The HSE has a step-by-step guide to work at height access equipment that can be used to identify the best solution.
- You must inspect and maintain protective equipment: You have a responsibility to inspect and maintain equipment to make sure that it’s always up to the job of protecting your employees. Be sure to follow any manufacturer instructions and get a competent person to inspect gear when it is first installed or subjected to something that might cause a defect.
Common misconceptions about work at height
The Work at Height Regulations are quite detailed and complex, so it’s understandable that there are some misconceptions that are passed on. Below, I’ve set out a few of the most common myths and corrected them with accurate explanations:
- Ladders and stepladders are banned for work at height: This isn’t true and both ladders and stepladders are suitable for low-risk, short duration jobs. However, they do need to be used by someone who is competent and knows what faults to check for before use.
- Employers are solely responsible for work at height: While an employer does shoulder the majority of responsibility, the regulations include employee responsibilities as well.
- Work at height includes jobs that involve walking up and down a staircase: The regulations do not apply to permanent staircases in buildings.
- Work at height includes slips or trips on the level: This is untrue. Although you are technically falling from your own ‘height’, the regulations only apply to falls from one level to another level below. See the HSE’s guidance on slips and trips instead.
- A competent person must be professionally qualified: This isn’t true, though the level of competence needs to be appropriate to the job at hand. Competence isn’t just training, but a combination of training, skills, experience and knowledge.
Take the advice in this guide onboard and you will have a firm footing when it comes to work at height. However, it should be stressed that the HSE’s guidance on work at height should be referred to for much more detail.
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