How to stay safe when installing at height

Working at height is one of the major causes of workplace injuries and fatalities.

In a nutshell:

• Working at height classes as anywhere a person could fall a distance and cause injury. 

• Work at height must be planned, supervised and carried out by ‘competent people’.

• Those using MEWPs, mast climbers or PASMA must have the necessary qualifications.

• Risk assessments that consider elements such as the height, the duration and the working conditions must be completed.

• Workers at ground level are also at risk from falling objects.

• Steps taken in the design stages can also mitigate accidents from working at height.

What classes as 'working at height'?

According to the 2005 Working At Height Regulations, any work completed where - if the correct measures required by these regulations were not taken- a person could fall a distance and cause personal injury classes as working from height. This includes areas both above and below ground level with the exception of staircases in a permanent workplace.

Training and experience

Before deciding to work at height, the WAHR stipulates that you must be sure that those with the correct training and experience are undertaking the task. The WAHR states that employers or those in control must make sure work is planned, supervised and carried out by ‘competent’ people. The HSE website defines a ‘competent person’ as ’someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety. It's not usually essential for them to have formal qualifications and they're not required by law to have formal training.’ 

This rule is dependent on the task, however. As those in operation of  MEWPs (Mobile Elevating Work Platforms) or mast climbers should have attended a recognised operator training course and received a certificate, card or 'licence'. Likewise, those using mobile access towers require a PASMA accreditation. PASMA also offer a range of training related to working at height such as a half-day course aimed at novices in the construction industry. Click here to see the range of training PASMA provide.

Assessing the risk

Risk assessments that assess the health and safety risks present onsite and identify specific hazards must also be completed. It is required by law to consider the following factors before installing at height: the height, the duration of time to complete the task and the working conditions.
To minimise the time spent installing at height it is advised to complete any work that can be completed at ground level.

Steps to take whilst at height

While working at height, the WAHR dictates that you must:

  • Ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly by a competent and qualified operative.

  • Make sure you don’t overload or overreach when working at height.

  • Take precautions when working on or around fragile surfaces.

  • Consider your emergency evacuation and rescue procedures.

  • Where the risk of falls cannot be eliminated, provide work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.

Falling objects

Installing systems at height not only poses risks for those in the sky, but falling objects can also be fatal to workers on the ground. Injuries ranging from fractures to paralysis and death can be caused by dropped objects. To minimise this risk, it is advised to use exclusion zones to keep people away or mesh on scaffolds and debris netting on MEWPS and mast climbers to stop materials such as falling bricks. Tool tethering is also an effective way of preventing objects from falling or being dropped.

To learn more about useful tools for installing at height, see the ‘Types of equipment’ page on the HSE website.

Prevention in the design stage

Lastly, steps to reduce fatalities from installing at height can also be avoided as early in production as the design process. Under ‘The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations’, architects and designers have a responsibility to consider the need for work to be carried out at height over the course of the building’s lifespan, and, where possible, avoid the need to do so in their designs.

All information regarding regulations were correct at time of publication. Read Work At Height Regulations (2005) for more information.