Working at height
Updated: Jul 3, 2021
Working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries. Common cases include falls from ladders and through fragile surfaces. 'Work at height' means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury (for example a fall through a fragile roof).
This blog shows you how you can take simple, practical measures to reduce the risk of falling while working at height.
What do I have to do?
You must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people with the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job. You must use the right type of equipment for working at height.
Take a sensible approach when considering precautions. Low-risk, relatively straightforward tasks will require less effort when it comes to planning and there may be some low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary.
First assess the risks. Factors to weigh up include the height of the task, the duration and frequency, and the condition of the surface being worked on.
Before working at height work through these simple steps:
avoid work at height where it's reasonably practicable to do so
where work at height cannot be easily avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment
minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated
For each step, always consider measures that protect everyone at risk (collective protection) before measures that only protect the individual (personal protection).
Collective protection is equipment that does not require the person working at height to act for it to be effective. Examples are permanent or temporary guardrails, scissor lifts and tower scaffolds.
Personal protection is equipment that requires the individual to act for it to be effective. An example is putting on a safety harness correctly and connecting it, with an energy-absorbing lanyard, to a suitable anchor point.
Dos and don'ts of working at height
as much work as possible from the ground
ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly
take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
provide protection from falling objects
consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures
overload ladders – consider the equipment or materials workers are carrying before working at height. Check the pictogram or label on the ladder for information
overreach on ladders or stepladders
rest a ladder against weak upper surfaces, eg glazing or plastic gutters
use ladders or stepladders for strenuous or heavy tasks, only use them for light work of short duration (a maximum of 30 minutes at a time)
let anyone who is not competent (who doesn't have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job) work at height
Find out more
The HSE's work at height website provides further practical advice on how to comply with the law, and the safe use of ladders and stepladders. It also contains useful links to industry-specific guidance.