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March 20, 2014

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6 steps for safe Working at Height

In the second in a series of two articles, David Thomas CFIOSH, Technical Director of Heightec, talks through the steps both employers and employees should take when preparing to work from height.

The following should be considered, when planning and implementing work at height:

Plan the job properly


A hazard identification and risk assessment must be undertaken. The selection of a personal fall protection system should follow a hierarchy of protective measures:

  • avoid;
  • prevent;
  • mitigate.

Where the risk of falls cannot be eliminated, the works should be carried out at the highest possible level in the hierarchy of protective measures. Wherever possible, a personal fall protection system that prevents a fall should be used in preference to a fall arrest system.

Collective protective measures must take precedence over personal protective measures. Where a fall arrest system is used, it is essential to ensure that adequate free space is provided to avoid the user hitting the ground or other obstacle in the fall path.

The installation, use and/or dismantling of protective measures should not expose personnel to a greater risk than not using the system.

Work must be properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner that minimises risk (this includes planning for emergencies and rescue) and is in accordance with legislative requirements.

It is essential that there is a specific rescue plan (or incident management system) and resource in place for each worksite, and that it is understood by all personnel before any work at height is commenced.

Rescue methods that do not require a rescuer to be exposed to risk are preferable, e.g. a non-contact rescue is preferred to one where the rescuer must descend to the rescuee. A competent person should supervise all works.

An efficient communications system should be established between all individuals working at a height and, where necessary, between them and third parties.

Work at height should be carried out only when the weather conditions do not jeopardise the health or safety of persons involved in the work.


User information and method statements should be read and thoroughly understood by all personnel.  This may take the form of briefings and/or toolbox talks.

No person at work should pass across or near (or work on, from or near) a fragile surface where it is reasonably practicable to carry out the work safely without them doing so.

Those who work at height should be familiar with any appropriate rescue techniques and emergency procedures. Those planning and managing work should consult with employees, or their representatives.

Select the most appropriate equipment


Measures should be in place to ensure that, before use, any equipment designed, supplied and/or installed by others is ‘fit for purpose’, e.g. well maintained.

Equipment should be selected that conforms to standards relevant to the intended use (with all components used in a fall protection system requiring adequate static and dynamic strength and appropriate factors of safety),e.g. CE-marking Components in any system should be compatible. Specific rescue equipment should, as appropriate, always be present at the worksite.

When selecting work equipment for use in work at height, account should be taken, in the case of work equipment for access and egress, of the distance to be negotiated and the duration and frequency of use. (This consideration needs to be measured against the hierarchy of protective measures, e.g. regular works may justify a higher-level control solution than spasmodic works).


Equipment should only be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s user instructions Ensure that products markings are legible and, therefore, traceable.



It is essential that those who work at height are competent, i.e. have appropriate knowledge, skills and experience.

Users should be assessed for competence. Competency should be assessed and recorded against appropriate industry criteria.


Users should follow their training and any additional information provided, e.g. at a site specific or company induction. It is essential that employers maintain their employees’ level of ability, e.g. refresher course(s)

Personnel conducting training and inspection (at all levels) should be competent to do so.  Competency should be assessed and recorded against appropriate industry criteria.

Using the equipment


Instructions and where appropriate, training, for correct use of equipment should be supplied to ensure that personnel understand the correct method of equipment use.

Anchorages and anchor devices should have adequate margin of strength and stability.  They should be unquestionably reliable.  The general principle is that for any load they are likely to be subjected to, metallic components should have a factor of safety of at least two and webbing (and similar) components should have a factor of safety of at least three.

Anchorages and anchor devices should be used which reduce the fall distance, the consequence of the fall and swing falls. Exclusion zones should be established, where required, and measures taken to prevent falling objects.


Those undertaking work at a height need to be appropriately dressed and equipped for the work situation and conditions. It is essential that any tools and equipment used in work at a height do not endanger the users’ health and safety. Connection of a user to a personal fall protection system should be made in an area where there is no risk of a fall from a height.

Users should guard against personal fall protection systems passing over sharp or rough edges, unless a means of protection of the line has been planned or provided.

A competent person, before use, should assess anchorages. Where permanent anchorages are used, these should be appropriately inspected and verified by a competent person and the anchorage system marked with the “date next inspection due”.

Equipment should be use in accordance with instructions and training.  Exclusion zones should be established, where required, and measures taken to prevent falling objects.  Points of attachment should be secure and fastened. Check that the clearance is sufficient.

Inspection and maintenance


Equipment should be subjected to pre-use checks, detailed inspections and (where needed) interim inspections by a competent person, and withdrawn from service if any defect is found.  Appropriate records should be kept, and available.

It is important that there is a quarantine procedure for ensuring that defective or suspect equipment is withdrawn from service and does not get back into service without the inspection and approval of a competent person.

Equipment should be kept clean and should be stored properly.  Equipment should never be stored wet. Equipment should be maintained in a safe and functional state.  Be aware of manufacturers’ advice on obsolescence.


Equipment should not be altered or repaired, unless this has been authorised by the manufacturer. Always undertake pre-use checks.  Damaged equipment should not used; and quarantined. Appropriate records should be kept, e.g. inspections, safe systems of work, etc.

Supervise effectively


Ensure that inexperienced workers, in particular, are supervised. Do not condone unsafe acts and/or behaviours; intervene when you see bad practice. Encourage the reporting of near hits, so that preventative action can be taken. Ensure that incidents are investigated and lessons learnt promulgated.


Report incidents and near hits, so that preventative action can be taken; and lessons learnt promulgated.

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Rai Zulfiqar Ali
Rai Zulfiqar Ali
4 years ago

Excellent information regarding duty of employee and employer