"Working at height" means doing any job where the person could be injured by falling. This includes work at or below ground level.
Unfortunately, working from height continues to cause significant numbers of workplace injuries every year, including 8% of non-fatal accidents and more fatalities than any other cause. Like all of the major topics in health and safety, working at height has been covered by legislation to try to bring down the amount of accidents, and employers should ensure they're complying with all of the relevant laws.
Due to the dangers of this kind of work, staff should always receive good quality training before taking part.
Work at Height Regulations 2005
The primary piece of legislation dealing specifically with working at height, the Work at Height Regulations 2005 apply to employers and anyone who controls work at height, including people supervising contractors. The people in question must ensure that all working at height is carried out by a competent person who knows how to complete the work to a high standard and is aware of all safety obligations.
Employers must also carry out a thorough risk assessment before the work takes place to make sure all possible control measures have been enacted and the work is as safe as it possibly can be.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the legislation's overriding principle for employers is: "you must do all that is reasonably practicable to prevent anyone falling".
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
The basis for all British health and safety legislation was established with this Act. Subsequent legislation such as the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also had an important role to play.
Under the Act, employers are required to take all possible steps to protect the health and safety of their employees and the public. In cases where prosecutions are brought, this piece of legislation is often cited.
What must Employers do to Comply with the Working at Height Legislation?
Put simply, every employer must take every step they can to prevent any danger befalling those who work at height.
Conducting a good risk assessment is vital (for employers who have five staff or more, this must be recorded in a written document). Working at height is much more dangerous if the staff doing so haven't been trained, or if the equipment they've been provided with isn't in good repair or isn't the best tool for the job. These hazards can be foreseen and dealt with before they become a problem. The best risk assessments are written with the input of the staff doing the work involved, who will most likely have great suggestions for improving safety. Any "near misses" or minor accidents in the past should also be considered so they can be learnt from.
Each project should be considered on its own terms. If, for example, a construction project requires extensive working at height, this should be a major focus of the safety plan drawn up before work starts.
The penalties for not complying with work at height laws can be huge – and more importantly, it can lead to serious injuries or deaths for the workers involved. In 2016, Allen and Hunt Construction Engineers Limited were fined £274,671 after one of their workers fell through the roof of a farm building in 2014, suffering life-changing injuries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to create a proper safety plan for the job, did not provide their workers with the correct equipment and hadn't correctly trained the employee to carry out such work. The company went into liquidation soon after.
The business and human costs of falls from height can be devastating but, as with most health and safety risks, they are almost always preventable with the right preparation and staff training.