Working at height is a common requisite of almost any construction, maintenance or development work and should be conducted with extra care. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), falls from height remain one of the most common causes of fatality in any workplace, with a large proportion of these being a result of proper checks and basic assessments having not been carried out.

If you are an employer running your own business where working at height is frequent, it is crucial that you are familiar with the Working At Height Regulations 2005 and that you are continuously implementing the right health and safety protocol within your work site. If you are an employee, it’s important to be aware of the necessary safety checks so you can be sure you are not putting yourself in danger whilst at work. 

1.     Assess the work to be done.

Thorough and practical assessment of the work to be carried out will allow the work to be controlled responsibly throughout, minimising the likelihood of setbacks or emergencies.

It is stressed by the HSE that work should be done at height only when absolutely necessary. Ask yourself: can this work be done from the ground, with specialised equipment? Or can it be done using lower-level or interval platforms, reducing the risk of fall or injury?

Also identify the risks themselves, including the height of the work to be done, and how realistically accessible it is, even with the use of elevated platforms and other equipment. Determine how many people are required to complete the work, so as not to compromise the safety of more than what is absolutely necessary. Decide whether the work to be done is of a long or short duration (short duration is work that is measured in minutes rather than hours). 

2.     Take note of environmental conditions.

Work at height should never be undertaken or allowed in extreme weather conditions that could endanger anybody’s health and safety. Also bear in mind the surrounding environment of your work site, such as a noisy environment that could affect communications between those working at height and those co-ordinating on the ground. Nearby unstable matter can also pose an extra risk of injury, distraction or obstruction, so it’s important to maintain the worksite and its surrounding area to as high a standard as possible.

Although environmental conditions very often cannot be controlled, they can be noted and prepared for accordingly. 

3.     Check the relevant equipment.

Use of the right equipment is obviously the backbone of any work being carried out at height; whether this involves ladders, scaffolding, or the use of mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPS) such as scissor lifts or cherry pickers.

What should not be overlooked, however, is the checking and maintenance of this equipment on a regular basis. Different equipment and machinery will have various maintenance specifications; scaffolding checks for example, ought to be carried every seven days, whilst harnesses require a pre-use check, detailed inspection and interim inspection at various stages of their lifetime.

Equipment checks should ideally be carried out by someone assessed under a registry body (such as the Construction Industry Scaffolders Registration Scheme), or at least with sufficient experience in the use of the height equipment being used. 

4.     Ensure employees have the right training.

In light of the previous point, anybody using specific height equipment should have had the right training in its operation – this is essential. If your business engages in the use of mobile elevated platforms, it is absolutely crucial that all employees have undergone IPAF training and hold a current Powered Access Licence card (PAL) that proves they are capable of operating MEWPs safely.

IPAF training can be carried out by an IPAF approved training provider, and courses can be completed in just one day, with different packages to suit your business’ needs. If you are an employee, speak to your employer about possibly setting up a course to secure a fully qualified workforce (and some excellent team building opportunities). 

5.     Prepare for the worst.

It sounds simple, but the law requires that there is always a plan in place for emergencies and rescues when working at height. Use all means possible to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur, such as safety nets or bean bags; rest platforms at regular intervals, and the wear of safety clothing.
Adele Hallsall writes for Kimberly Access, which provide access platform equipment for construction jobs. They have been serving businesses with access equipment for many years now and have a loyal customer base. They also provide training such as IPAF training.