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The work at height regulations: a quick refresher

Gateley Legal

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With falls from a height once again identified as the most common workplace injury, both in the construction industry and in wider workplaces, this is a good time for employers to review and consider the legal requirements when working from a height.

Regulatory framework

Working from a height is governed by the Work at Height Regulations 2005. 

When do the regulations apply?

These regulations apply when there is a risk of a fall liable to cause injury in the workplace.

Common examples include:

  • working using a ladder or on a flat roof;
  • working on a fragile surface where there is a risk of falling through; or
  • working in an area where there are openings in the floor through which a worker could fall.

Who is affected by the regulations?

The regulations apply to:

  • employers; 
  •  the self-employed; and
  • anyone who controls the work of another when working from a height.

In this article, the above are referred to as Employers for ease of reference.

What are your duties?

Organisation and Planning:

Where work from a height is required it must be:

  • properly planned;
  • appropriately supervised; and
  • carried out in a manner which is - so far as is reasonably practicable – safe.

Planning requires making provision for emergencies, and work from a height must only be carried out when the weather is suitable.

The amount of planning required will be dictated by the complexity of and risk involved in completing the task required.

Competence:

Employers must ensure that anyone engaging in work from height (including organisation and planning) must be competent to do so, or if being trained to be supervised by someone who is competent.

Avoidance of risks:

Employers are required to avoid work from a height where possible. If working from a height is unavoidable, the work should be carried out from an existing place of work or using an existing means of access.

If the above is not enough to minimise the risk, the employer should aim to minimise the distance (if possible) and consequences of a fall and implement additional training, instructions and other suitable measures. 

Every employer must make a risk assessment when working from a height.

Equipment:

Protective measures should prioritise collective protection over personal protection and should take account of the working conditions/risks of the location, the distance to be negotiated when accessing the area, the distance and consequences of a potential fall, the duration and frequency of use, the need for an easy and prompt evacuation in an emergency and the additional risk of equipment when performing an evacuation.

Working requirements:

Employers need to have regard for the particular requirements of the regulations when using:

  • guard-rails, toe-boards, barriers or similar collective means of protection;
  • working platforms;
  • nets, airbags or other collective safeguards for arresting falls;
  • personal fall protection systems; and 
  • ladders.

Fragile surfaces:

Employers must ensure that no person at work passes across or near a fragile surface where it is possible to carry work out safely without doing so. Where this is not possible, employers must ensure:

  • that platforms, coverings, guard rails or similar means of support or protection are available;
  • suitable and sufficient measures to minimise the distances and consequences of a fall are taken;
  • prominent warning notices are placed around any fragile surface; and
  • persons working are made aware of fragile surfaces.

Falling objects:

Employers owe a duty to prevent the fall of any material or object or when this is not achievable take suitable steps to avoid falling objects causing injury. This includes material being thrown or tipped and extends to the storage of objects and materials.

Danger areas:

Employers owe a specific duty to clearly mark and properly equip the workplace to prevent known danger areas leading to employees falling or being struck by falling objects.

Inspection of work equipment:

Employers owe a duty to ensure that:

  • work equipment is properly installed or assembled, if it is required, before use;
  • work equipment which is liable to degrade is regularly inspected and inspected whenever the equipment could be jeopardised;
  • working platforms used for construction and above the height of 2m are inspected before use (or within 7 days of use when using a mobile working platform);
  • work equipment does not leave the worksite without being inspected and evidence of the inspection is provided;
  • inspections are reported before the end of the relevant working period and reports are provided within 24 hours;
  • copies of reports are kept on the site where the equipment is being used and in the company’s office;

Inspection of places of work at height:

Employers must ensure that surfaces and safety installations such as rails and other fall protection measures are inspected before use.

Reporting duties:

Workers must report risks when working at height to their relevant employer. They must also use equipment and safety devices in accordance with their instructions and relevant training.

Do you require further information regarding the work at height regulations?

If you’d like further information on working from height, including practical examples of what to do in difficult situations, we recommend visiting the Health and Safety Executive’s Work at Height Page and contacting our expert listed below.

Gateley Plc is authorised and regulated by the SRA (Solicitors' Regulation Authority). Please visit the SRA website for details of the professional conduct rules which Gateley Legal must comply with.

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