View from the top: Staying safe when working at height

Working at heightYou only need to take a look at the safety statistics to see that accidents on construction sites are responsible for a disproportionate number of all fatal workplace injuries – although the construction sector accounts for just 5% of employees in Britain, it accounts for 27% of all fatal injuries to employees, many of which result from falls. However, it’s not just construction workers who are at risk when working at height…  In fact, working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries full-stop, with common cases including falls from ladders or through fragile roofs. This short guide aims to give you the low-down on the law regarding working at heights and information you can use to create a working at height policy, as well as practical advice on how to keep you and your colleagues safe.

Working at height regulations

The Working at Height Regulations 2005 apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. In 2007 an amendment  came into force, applying to those who work at height providing instruction or leadership to one or more people engaged in caving or climbing by way of sport, recreation, team building or similar activities in Great Britain.

As part of the regulations, duty holders must ensure:

  • all work at height is properly planned and organised;
  • those involved in work at height are competent;
  • the risks from work at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used;
  • the risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled; and
  • equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained.

The regulations also recommend that, where possible, working at height should be avoided. However, we respect this is not always practical. With this in mind, the Health and Safety Executive has provided the following advice for working at height:

Advice for working at heights


  • make sure the surface/access equipment in use is stable and strong enough to support the worker’s weight and that of any equipment. Any edge protection should be wide enough and strong enough to prevent a fall
  • as much work as possible from the ground or partly from the ground, for example assemble structures on the ground and lift them into position with lifting equipment
  • take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces, e.g. an asbestos cement roof, to prevent a fall or to minimise the distance and consequences in the event of a fall
  • ensure workers can get safely to and from where they want to work at height and also consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures
  • make sure everyone involved is competent to do the work they are responsible for, including those who plan and organise it
  • choose the most appropriate equipment for the type of work being done and how often it will be used
  • provide protection from falling objects
  • make sure equipment used for work at height is well maintained and inspected regularly


  • overload ladders – the person and anything they are taking up should not exceed the highest load stated on the ladder
  • overreach on ladders or stepladders – keep your belt buckle (navel) inside the stiles and both feet on the same rung throughout the taskworking at height course
  • use ladders or stepladders if the nature of the work is deemed to be ‘heavy’ or if the task will take longer than thirty minutes or so to complete
  • use ladders if workers cannot maintain three points of contact (hands and feet) at the working position. If this is not possible, consider an alternative safe system of work
  • let anyone who is not competent (someone who doesn’t have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job) carry out work at height  

For more advice about working at height, visit the HSE website.

Working at height training     

Undertaking safety training or attending a working height course is an excellent way to help yourself and your colleagues stay safe. A good working at heights training course will provide you with information including:

  • An overview of working activities involving risk of injury from working at height and typical injuries
  • Legal responsibilities including an overview of the Working at Height Regulations
  • Basic hazards and factors affecting risk
  • Main precautions to prevent falls and falling materials
  • Safe working practices for common forms of access equipment
  • Inspection requirements for scaffolds.

What next?

1. Follow RoSPA’s brand new Twitter feed dedicated to workplace safety,@RoSPAWorkplace for all the latest guides, hints and tips!
2. Sign up to RoSPA’s brand new fortnightly e-bulletin, SafetyMatters.

Further reading

Risk assessment template

PUWER regulations

Safety on the site

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One thought on “View from the top: Staying safe when working at height

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  1. Safety when working at a height is absolutely vital. There are so many hazards! Having worked closely with the construction industry over the years I’ve worked alongside an array of safety trainers, however, none have provided training as well as Nets and common sense can help hugely when working at a height! Keep the great articles coming . . .

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