The Work at Height Regulations place duties on employers to ensure that work at height is properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe.
To achieve this, it will involve ensuring that those involved in work at height are competent, the risks from working at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used, whilst ensuring that any equipment used for work at height is properly inspected and maintained. Consideration must also be given to ensuring the risks of working on, or near, fragile surfaces are properly managed. Rescue provisions for those working at height also need to be given full consideration.
Managing work at height follows a hierarchy of controls – Avoid, Prevent, Arrest. Where it is not possible to Avoid working at height the emphasis needs to be on Preventing falls as opposed to Arresting someone who has fallen.
Consideration must also be given to the provision of collective protection ahead of personal protection. Collective protection is protection that will protect everyone in the area, such as permanent or temporary guardrails, scissor lifts and tower scaffolds or safety netting.
Personal fall protection is equipment that only protects the individual, it also requires the individual to act for it to be effective. One example of this is putting on a safety harness correctly and connecting it, via the appropriate lanyard (for the activity being carried out or the equipment used), to a suitable anchor point.
If all of the steps in this process are not completed correctly this could have fatal consequences for the user of the equipment. Over the years, poorly fitted harnesses, selection and use of the wrong type of lanyards and the use of inappropriate anchorage points has contributed significantly to fatalities and major injury statistics.
Due to its very nature, if something goes wrong when working at height the consequences can be dire. A momentary lapse in concentration, the selection of wrong equipment and failure to correctly inspect and use that equipment are just some instances that can lead to something or someone contributing significantly to a serious incident.
To minimise the chances of an incident or accident occurring, the importance of having competent workers for carrying out work at height activities cannot be overemphasised, so how do you decide if someone is competent to work at height? The HSE view on competence to work at height is as follows:-
“People with sufficient skills, knowledge and experience should be employed to perform the task, or if they are being trained, that they work under the supervision of somebody competent to do it.”
The level of training should be commensurate with the risks involved in the activity and the complexity of the tasks being carried out. For example an operative using a safety harness should be able to demonstrate additional competence to an operative using a stepladder. Trade associations and industry bodies operate competence schemes for specific activities, such as the operation of Powered Access Equipment (IPAF), Erection of Scaffolding (NASC and PASMA) and for roof work (Advisory Committee for Roof Safety). Further information and guidance can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk.