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January 25, 2007

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Do the height thing

Paul Barker provides a brief reminder of the requirements of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, particularly in relation to personal protection equipment.

Despite the fact that the number of deaths from falls from height was the lowest on record last year they remain the most common cause of fatal injury and the third most common cause of major injury to employees. The HSE has attributed the improvement in the figures to the implementation of the Work at Height Regulations in 2005, which have certainly ensured that the activity remains a safety priority for all those engaged in such work – whether they are team builders on a busy construction site, or remote lone workers, such as utility engineers.

The Regulations require companies to review all the procedures and documentation they have in place relating to working at height, including health and safety policy documents, inspection forms, and risk assessments. The emphasis is now on a risk-based approach. The HSE reinforced this message by rejecting the “above two metre rule”, so work at height actually constitutes “any place, including a place at, above, or below ground level where a person could be injured if they fell from that place. Access and egress to a place of work can also be at height.”

To help employers and employees understand the 2005 Regulations and the things they should be doing to comply with them, the HSE has issued a number of key messages. Essentially, these are as follows:

– Follow the risk assessments you have carried out for work at height activities and make sure all this work is planned, organised, and carried out by competent people;

– Follow the hierarchy for managing risks from work at height – take steps to avoid, prevent, or reduce risks; and

– Choose the right work equipment and select collective measures to prevent falls, mitigate the distance and consequences of any fall, and provide personal protection equipment.

Plan to prevent

All work at height needs to be planned in advance, including selection of equipment and rescue procedures. The emphasis of the 2005 Regulations is on preventing falls from happening in the first place, wherever possible. The HSE recommends the use of working platforms with guardrails, or access equipment such as cherry-pickers and mast-climbers, as well as the correct personal protection equipment, such as work restraint systems and personal fall arrest systems. These systems include:

– harnesses;

– scaffolding lanyards;

– self-retracting lifelines; and

– fall limiters.

Should an incident occur, some of the latest PPE will mitigate any serious consequences, including the potentially fatal suspension trauma, while a rescue is executed. This is particularly important for lone workers or those on remote sites, who would have to wait for assistance should a fall or other incident occur. If harnesses are used there should be sufficient clearance from the ground to allow the shock-absorbing lanyard or inertia reel to fully extend.

Some of the latest innovations in PPE product development have been in the use of lanyards and lifelines, where previously wearers were still subject to considerable fall arrest forces in the event of a fall. Self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) have also seen new standards set, with the introduction of super-lightweight yet still robust systems, thanks to the use of stainless-steel housings and aluminium components. New blocks that can be used horizontally with no anchorage points above the user have also been introduced. Quick-activating braking systems that stop a fall within centimetres and also minimise fall arrest forces on the wearer are also now available.

As well as the selection of suitable fall arrest PPE, its use should be supervised and it should be regularly inspected for signs of wear and tear or damage as part of the work at height risk assessment procedure.

The Regulations also cover the prevention of injuries caused by falling objects, and recommend the use of boards and barriers at platform and scaffolding edges. The issue of tools being accidentally dropped by workers must also be considered in order to avoid injury to people working below, or to members of the public, who may be walking past a construction site, or happen to be in the street where telecom or other utilities repairs are taking place above them.


Before any work at height is carried out, the following steps should be taken:

– Check there is a safe method of getting to and from the work area. Decide what particular equipment will be suitable for the job and the conditions on site;

– Make sure work platforms and any edges from which people are likely to fall have guardrails, toe boards, or other barriers;

– Make sure the equipment needed is delivered to the site in good time and that the site is prepared for it;

– Check equipment is in good condition – particularly if it has been provided by another company;

– Make sure whoever assembles the equipment is trained and competent to do so;

– Make sure those who are using the equipment are supervised and can use it properly; and

– Tell the appropriate supervisor if any equipment defects need to remedied, or modifications made.

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