Everything you Need to Know about Height Safety
As cities expand, more and more jobs in the construction industry involve elevation. Causing concern for many employers, tasks performed at height are far riskier in terms of injury and hazards than ground-level work.
That’s why the Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) were introduced in 2005 to protect workers.
But knowing the correct gear, safety protocols, and best practices when it comes to working at height can be tricky, since there are so many potential hazards. Luckily for you, though, there are lots of practical solutions to the health and safety problems that arise when working at height.
In this blog, we’ve put together a guide to working at height so you’ll be well-prepared to tackle any task - regardless of how high off the ground it is. Structured around the commonly-asked questions surrounding working at height, this blog will answer all your queries, and help keep you safer on the job.
What is height safety?
Height safety refers to the practical precautions taken to ensure those working at height are protected from injury and harm.
What is the minimum height for ‘working at height’?
While there is no exact figure, working at height refers to any kind of work where, in absence of precautions, a person could fall and injure themselves. For example,
- Work using a ladder
- Standing on a table or bench
- Using a fragile surface like a roof
- Working on multiple levels
Even a metre’s elevation off the ground could be enough to cause serious injury to a person, which is why it is essential to protect yourself when working off the ground.
What are the hazards of working at height?
Built into the very definition of working at height is a recognition of the hazards that come with elevated tasks.
As it stands, working at a height is one of the largest causes of non-fatal injuries in the UK — 8% in fact. Between 2020/21, of the 142 workers who lost their lives at work, 35 of them fell from a height.
The most common causes of injury when working at height include falling from ladders and falling through fragile surfaces. For advice when working with ladders, download the Health and Safety Executive (HSE’s) pdf guide. Some of the most hazardous fragile surfaces to be aware of include the following:
- Roof lights
- Metal sheets
- Slates and tiles
- Non-reinforced materials
It’s clear, then, that working at height is extremely dangerous and precautionary action must be taken by employers and employees alike.
How to prevent injury when working at height
While it is impossible to defend against freak accidents, there are always a series of precautionary measures you can take to reduce the risks of working at height. For example:
The most fundamental piece of advice is to only work from height when absolutely necessary. If work can be completed from the ground using pulleys, lifting clamps, and extended tools, then it should be.
Another factor to be avoided is working at height in poor weather conditions. If it’s raining or there are strong winds, the equipment can quickly become slippery and unstable, and work should be postponed.
Actions such as using the correct lifting equipment, investing in protective work gear, and never working at height alone, are all ways in which employees can protect themselves against falling from height.
Another great way to reduce the risk of injury is by considering objects falling from heights. Investing in hard hats and creating ‘exclusion zones’ to keep people away from the base of ladders or scaffolding is the best way to prevent head injuries.
Lastly, should the worst happen, ensuring all staff on site are briefed up with the knowledge of what to do in an emergency can make all the difference. First aid training is invaluable on building sites.
In an ideal world, should a fall happen, a sufficient amount of defence strategies should be in place to minimise personal injury and loss of life. These strategies can include minimising the distance from the ground using platforms, MEWPs (mobile elevating work platforms like scissor lifts), and placing down protective mats.
While employees should always report any health and safety hazards they see on site, employers should remember that there are legal consequences for irresponsible conduct when working at height.
Can you work at height alone?
While it is much safer to work with others to guide and spot you, it is possible to work on elevated projects solo.
If planning to work at height alone, however, there are a number of safety precautions you should take. While there is no legal requirement for a solo worker to perform a risk assessment, it is in your best interest to ensure you are equipped and able to perform the tasks without jeopardising your personal safety. There are a number of ways you can do this, including but not limited to:
- Seeking out advice and height safety training
- Ensuring you are wearing appropriate workwear
- Monitoring the quality and appropriateness of your equipment
- All of the steps that are detailed above.
Working from a height also relies heavily upon competence and working conditions. For example, if you have received training for short-duration tasks of less than 30 minutes, it is not wise to undertake long-haul tasks without instruction or aid.
At what height is a safety harness required?
One of the most integral pieces of equipment for working at height is a safety harness. Whether a full-body harness or a belt, the simple answer to this question is “always”. A safety harness should be worn whenever you are performing a task in which there is a risk of falling and obtaining an injury.
Other height safety gear
Whether you’re protecting your head, eyes, or body, The Ratchet Shop provides a comprehensive range of height safety work gear for elevated tasks. What’s more, if you purchase over £100 worth of gear, we’ll deliver it to your door free of charge.
Do’s and Don’ts
To summarise all that we’ve learnt, we’ve put together a list of tips to help you work safely and more efficiently at height.
- As much work as you can from the ground
- Regularly check lifting and safety equipment
- Invest in personal protective equipment like hardhats
- Take precautions when using ladders or standing on roofs
- Brief yourself and others on emergency protocols for working at height
- Create ‘exclusion zones’ to avoid contact with falling objects
- Use proper lifting platforms, like scissor lifts
- Overreach when standing on ladders
- Use weak or fragile surfaces to stand on incase they fall through
- Go without safety harnesses or helmets for high-up tasks
- Ignore safety regulations and briefs
- Overload ladders
For any further questions surrounding height safety, you can simply download GOV.UK’s comprehensive guide to working at height, or get in touch with our team of experts who can point you in the right direction when it comes to height safety-appropriate work equipment.