Working at height - what to know

Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. Within this blog we will look at employee and lone worker safety and employer responsibility. 

Work at height is defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. You are working at height if you: 

  • work above ground/floor level
  • could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or 
  • could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground

Though work at height does NOT include a slip or a trip on the level, as a fall from height has to involve a fall from one level to a lower level, nor does it include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building.

Though not classed as working from height, precautions must still be taken for slips, trip and falls are the biggest cause of injury in the workplace. More on that further in the blog.

What is the legislation for working at height?

The current legislation for working at height is the Working at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR). The WAHR’s purpose is to prevent death and injury from a fall from height. 

The legislation has no minimum height requirement for work at height. The WAHR therefore encapsulates ALL work activities where there is a need to control a risk of falling a distance liable to cause personal injury. 

When working at height the equipment used, such as scaffolding, ladders, etc; the duration of time working at that height; and what the height the individual is working at are all irrelevant. If there is a danger of falling and a liability to cause injury WAHR must be strictly followed.

How many workers get injured while working at height?

Though these are important requirements to help prevent falls, they do still occur – in fact the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) accident statistics for 2014/2015 show that nearly three in every ten fatal accidents at work are caused by a fall from height and more than half of all serious injuries at work were caused by falls, slips and trips – though slips and trips are not included in WAHR it is important to note that they still cause these serious injuries.

As falls, slips and trips are clearly not wholly preventable, we must look at how we best react to aid the individual who has fallen, slipped or tripped.

Examples of working at height, slips and trips

As previously stated, working at height is any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury – no matter the height or equipment used.

Work from height:

  • Using a ladder or step ladder for a multitude of work activities;
  • A fall through a fragile surface with a drop below such as a flat roof;
  • Working at height on trees such as arboriculture and forestry work;
  • Working with scaffolding;
  • Working at height on billboards;
  • Working on the back of a lorry;
  • Working in mine shafts or elevator repair;
  • Container top working in docks;
  • A fall into an opening in a floor such as an open stank;
  • Using cradles or ropes to clean large commercial building’s windows;
  • Climbing structures such as aerials and telegraph poles;
  • Working close to a cellar opening, stank opening or another ground level opening with a  drop below;
  • Working on a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP);
  • Working on staging, such as in the theatre.

Slips and trips include, but are not limited to:

  • Trip on uneven surfaces
  • Slip on wet or oily surface
  • Uneven or damaged floor surfaces
  • Trip while on a flight of stairs 
  • Unable to see in poor lighting
  • Trailing cables
  • Unsuitable floor coverings

Fines for negligence?

Employers and employees can both suffer from fines for negligence, with fines of up to £20 million for organisations if they breach the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007.

For more information on fines for negligence read our other blog: Why I need a Lone Worker Solution 

In 2017, a contractor was working on converting a barge from a commercial vessel into a luxury house-boat. Whilst descending a ladder,  it twisted causing him to fall six metres onto the floor of the dry-dock injuring the individual.

Following an HSE investigation they found the company had failed to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury. The company had also failed to carry out a risk assessment.

Because of the HSE findings the company was fined £34,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,917.

Lone working at height

When working at height alone or simply working alone, an elevated amount of precaution must be taken towards slips, trips and falls. Lone working brings with it challenges which a typical worker might not consider. Lone working at height then increases these risks again. 

While working alone a fall, slip or trip becomes a much larger threat to the individual. If a lone worker was to fall from height, by definition, they have are no colleagues or co-workers to summon help for them.

If the individual was incapacitated, unconscious, seriously hurt or paralysed they may be unable to summoning help or have the ability help themselves in their time of need. 

Historically this has left individuals in a very vulnerable position where they will not be found until a colleague, family member or friend realises they are missing and then a search must begin to find them. 

This is a process which can last days.

An example of this was a heating engineer with lone worker status was undertaking a repair on a leaking communal boiler on a housing estate. The following day, his supervisor realised that the engineer had not checked out after completing his shift. 

Attempts to contact the engineer by phone were unsuccessful, so staff at the housing estate office were alerted. After failed attempts at contact him on mobile or at home they searched the boiler room where the engineer’s body was found at the bottom of his scaffold. 

He had fallen from height and sustained serious head injuries; he was not found until the next day. Sadly because of the delay in alert, it was too late to provide medical assistance to the engineer.

The social housing provider was ordered to pay £112,000 for the death of the lone working engineer.

Lone worker fall solutions

With technological advances such as our new Companion App with inbuilt and inclusive Man-down, our advanced fall detection technology, we can help prevent any delay in response following a fall, slip or trip.

The App’s Man-Down feature can be configured to either impact or inactivity to suit the task at hand.

What to do if a fall occurs?

The question then becomes, as falls are not totally preventable, how do we best react to to aid the individual who has fallen, slipped or tripped. 

An immediate response is vital. Falls are unpredictable and an individual may fall while lone working, while colleagues are at lunch, down secluded stairs, or during any number of isolated activities. If this happens then the individual could be incapacitated or unconscious. In this time of need every second counts, the longer an individual is left alone and untreated after a fall the higher the chance of mortality. 

This is why our new Companion App features Advanced Fall Detection technology, our advanced fall detection automatically understands when a fall has occurred and connects directly to our Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). If the end user does not respond, or says they need help our Officers are trained to issue rapid emergency response. 

Our ARC is a “police preferred specification” allowing us to bypass the “999” emergency call system, we can then update medical staff with the end users location, condition and physical traits so they can find the fallen lone worker as quickly as possible. 

Employees should remember that it is their safety that is on the line. Therefore it is imperative that you talk with your employer to make sure that they have completed relevant risk assessments such as our Five-by-five matrix so that you have the correct lone worker and working at height regulations. 

This way you have the best chance of mitigating a fall and also if a fall, slip or trip occurs then you will have the best possible response when you need it most.

Risk assessment for working at height

The most common causes of falls are from ladders and through fragile roofs, but a fall from height can happen in a multitude of scenarios and environments. For this reason it is important to do an environmental risk assessment such as our Five-by-five Matrix to calculate the probability of risk against the severity of the risk itself. 

Earlier this year a construction worker fell 2.7m through a stairwell opening sustaining multiple injuries including a fractured spine, a fractured skull and a collapsed lungs. 

HSE investigated the accident, and found that the company had carried out a risk assessment but not put any measures in place to mitigate the fall.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £1,020 in costs.

HSE Inspector Jayne Towey commented: “Falls from height often result in life-changing or fatal injuries. In most cases, these incidents are needless and could be prevented by properly planning the work to ensure that effective preventative and protective measures are in place”.

If you have any questions about lone working at height or our lone worker app or solutions please get in touch at: [email protected]

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