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Newsletter Article - May 2005

Working at Height

April of this year saw the introduction of revised health and safety regulations for working at height. The aim of the revision is to consolidate previous legislation as well as to implement a European Council Directive concerning the use of equipment when working at height.

As a general principle, the revised regulations apply to most work situations where people are required to work at height. They do not apply, however, to most recreational activities such as climbing or caving.

One of the most discussed items that changed with the introduction of the revised regulations is that the ‘two metre’ rule has been dropped. This stated that the original Work at Height regulations applied to any work that was carried out at two metres or more above ground level. Effectively, two metres was the definition of working at height.

This has now changed such that work at height is defined as working at a place from which a person could be injured by falling from it, regardless of whether it is above, at or below ground level. The reason for the change is that, from past experience, there have been more injuries from low level falls (i.e. less than 2 metres) than from high level falls. Consequently, organisations must now take precautions under the new regulations, regardless of the height.

The Problem

Whilst faulty equipment is responsible for some accidents arising from working at height, experience shows us that this is not the major cause. It would seem that most accidents occur as a result of poor management control, which includes such failures as:

  • Not recognising that a problem exists before it results in an accident
  • Not designing and enforcing safe systems of work
  • Not providing adequate information, instruction or training
  • Poor supervision
  • Not providing appropriate equipment or not using the right equipment for the job

Taking Precautions

When it comes to taking precautions to avoid accidents, the HSE proposes a simple hierarchy of measures, namely:

  1. If possible, organise the work to avoid the need to work at height
  2. If working at height cannot be avoided, implement measures to prevent falls
  3. If falls cannot be prevented, employ equipment and measures to minimise the height and the consequences of a fall, should it happen.

The new regulations lay down specific responsibilities for the employer and the employee:

Employers’ Responsibilities

As with all health and safety, when working at height, safety begins with the employer, who is expected to do all that is reasonably practicable to avoid accidents and minimise the adverse consequences of any accidents that do occur. This requirement implies that Risk Assessments have been carried out in accordance with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

Doing what is reasonably practicable includes such actions as:

  • Planning the work properly
  • Taking account of prevailing conditions such as poor weather.
  • Providing a safe place to work, which includes taking additional precautions where there are fragile surfaces to contend with.
  • Ensuring employees are properly trained and are competent to carry out the work safely
  • Conducting adequate inspections of workplaces, equipment, means of access, etc
  • Eliminating any risk of injuries as a result of falling objects

In addition, the employer should maintain adequate records of risk assessments, inspections, precautions that have been put in place and, of course, any accidents or incidents that occur in spite of everyone’s best efforts.

There’s a range of schedules attached to the regulations that provide guidance on the requirements that apply to each aspect of working at height such as fall prevention, working platforms and use of ladders.

In some cases, employers may be able to apply for exemptions to aspects of the regulations if it can be shown that strict adherence would prevent the work from being done or might result in other types of risk. However, if such exemptions are granted, it will only be on the basis that additional precautions have been implemented that are sufficient to compensate for the exemption.

Employees’ Responsibilities

Not all the responsibilities lie with the employer. Employees must also take care of their own health and safety and that of their colleagues.

In particular, every employee must, by law, report any health and safety hazards that they identify in regard to working at height. Merely ignoring a hazard and “hoping for the best” is not an option. Employees must also make proper use of all equipment that is provided for their safety.

Finally employees must follow the training and instruction they have received unless the circumstances would render it unsafe to do so. When this appears to be the case, the employee must report the fact and seek further instruction before continuing with the work.


It is probably true to say that very little change is needed for any employer who has managed work at height in a responsible manner in the past. However, based on the accident figures, it seems that there are still too many instances where the standard of management leaves much to be desired.

If you are responsible for a site and you are unsure whether or not you comply with the law, you need to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment as a matter of priority.

Contact EDP HS&E Consultants for all your health, safety and environment needs. We can check your current arrangements and advise you about any changes or improvements you need to make.

To discuss your requirements, without any obligation on your part, please gives us a call on 01744 766000 or complete the Enquiry Form on our website.

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