Common Work at Height Myths

Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. 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. Common causes are falls from ladders and through fragile roofs.

This brief guide is designed to clear up the confusion associated with the Work at Height Regulations

HSE have banned the use of ladders on building sites

NO, this is not the case. Ladders and step ladders can be a sensible practical option. They can be used for work at height when the use of other work equipment is not justifies because of the low risk and short duration (short duration means working on a ladder for no more than 30 minutes at a time), or when there are existing workplace or site features which cannot be altered.

You need to be formally qualified before using a ladder at work

No, you do not. You need to be competent. This means having the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to use a ladder properly for the work you will carry out, or, if you are being trained, you work under supervision of somebody who can perform the task competently. Training often takes place on the job and does not always have to take place in a classroom. What matters is that an individual can apply what they have learned in the workplace.

I am working at height if I’m walking up and down a staircase at work

No, you are not. Work at height does not include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building.

You need to have two feet and one hand on a stepladder at all times when carrying out a task

No, this isn’t true. when you need to have both hands free for a brief period to do a job using a step ladder (eg putting a box on a shelf, hanging wallpaper, installing a smoke detector on a ceiling) you need to maintain three points of contact at the working position. This is not just two feet and one hand, it can be two feet and your body (use your knees or chest to help with stability) supported by the stepladder. Ensure a handhold is available to steady yourself before and after.

HSE has banned the use of ladders to access scaffolds and you will be fined if you ignore this ban

No, this isn’t true. Ladders can be used for access as long as they are the right type (ie, a suitable grade of industrial ladder), in good condition and effectively secured (tied) to prevent movement. You should ensure they extend at least one metre above the landing point to allow for a secure handhold when stepping off.

What do I need to do to comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005?

The Regulations apply to all work at height, where there is risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. They place duties on employers, and those who control any work at height activity (such as facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height)

As part of the Regulations, you must ensure:

  • all work at height is properly planned and organised.
  • those involved in work at height are competent.
  • the risk from work at height are assessed, and appropriate work equipment is selected and used.
  • the risks of working on or near fragile surfaces are properly managed.
  • the equipment used for work at height is properly inspected and maintained.

When is a ladder right for the job?

The law says that ladders can be used for work at height when a risk assessment has shown that using equipment offering a higher level of fall protection is not justified because of the low risk and short duration of use. Short duration is not the deciding factor in establishing whether an activity is acceptable or not – you should of first considered the risk, As a guide, if your task would require staying up a leaning ladder or a step ladder for more than 30 minutes at a time, it is recommended that you consider alternative equipment. You should only use ladders in situations where they can be used safely, eg where the ladder will be level and stable, and where its reasonably practicable to do so, the ladder can be secured.

What’s the definition of a working platform?

The work at Height Regulations 2005 changed the meaning of working platforms, which were traditionally seen as fully-boarded platforms with handrails and toe boards. A working platform can now be virtually any surface from which work can be carried out, such as:

  • a roof
  • a floor
  • a platform on a scaffold
  • mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs)
  • the treads of a stepladder.

What do the Regulations say about guard rails in respect of working platforms?

The Regulations require that, for construction work, handrails have a minimum height of 950 mm, and that any gap between the top rail and any intermediate rail should not exceed 470 mm. The Regulations also require toe boards to be suitable and sufficient (eg a toe board of a minimum 100 mm height would be acceptable).

What do I need to know about using a Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP)?

If you are thinking of using a MEWP, consider the following questions:

  • Height – How high is the job from the ground?
  • Application – Do you have the appropriate MEWP for the job? (if you’re not sure check with the hirer or manufacturer).
  • Conditions – What are the ground conditions like? Is there a risk of the MEWP becoming unstable or overturning?
  • Operators – Are the people using the MEWP trained, competent and fit to do so?
  • Obstructions – Could the MEWP be caught on any protruding features or overhead hazards, eg steelwork, tree branches or power lines.
  • Traffic – Is there passing traffic and, if so, what do you need to do to prevent collisions.
  • Restraint – Do you need to use either work restraint (to prevent people climbing out of the MEWP) or a fall arrest system (which will stop a person hitting the ground if they fall out)? Allowing people to climb out of the basket is not normally recommended – do you need to do this as part of the job?
  • Checks – Has the MEWP been examined, inspected and maintained as required by the manufacturer’s instructions and have daily checks been carried out?

What should I do when using a Mobile Access Tower (Scaffold Tower)?

If you are thinking of using a tower, you need to be competent to build, inspect, use and dismantle a tower.

The following are all essential safety features that should be supplied upon purchase or hire of a tower:

  • purpose built platforms with trapdoor entry and exit. There must be enough platforms so that they can be installed at 2m height intervals during assembly and dismantling.
  • guardrails fitted all the way around every platform at a minimum height of 950mm and with a maximum 470mm vertical gap between the guardrails and the platform.
  • a built in access ladder or staircase for safe ascent and descent.
  • 4 stabilisers of the correct size and height of the tower.
  • toe boards to prevent the fall of any materials.
  • user instructions which show one of the two recognised safe assembly and dismantling method

The 2 recognised methods are:

  1. . Guardrail side frames are put in place in advance of anyone getting on the platform. They are put in place from ground level  for the first platform level, and from the protected position of a platform below for the higher platform levels.
  2. Through the trap (3T). Guardrails are put in place before stepping onto the platform. The operator positions themselves within the open trap door, seated on the platform, from where they install or remove the guardrails.

How do you decide if someone is competent to work at height?

You should make sure that people with sufficient skills, knowledge and experience are employed to perform the task, or, if they are being trained, that they work under supervision of somebody competent to do it. In the case of low-risk, short duration tasks involving ladders, competence requirements may be no more than making sure an employee receive instruction on how to use the equipment safely (eg how to tie a ladder properly) and appropriate training. When a more technical level of competence is required, for example drawing up a plan for assembling a complex scaffold, existing training and certification schemes drawn up by trade associations and industry is one way too help demonstrate competence.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *