Working At Height, How Can The Dangers Be Minimised?

Industry News By Matthew Coombes

What is working at height?

Working at height is defined by the Health and Safety Executive as “…work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.” This definition is based on the Working at Height Regulations 2005, and provides a useful starting point to any conversation about working at height.

Working at height doesn’t just mean the tops of trees, hanging from buildings or at the apex of a scaffolding tower; it also means step ladders, step stools and portable ladders. However, there is plenty of room for common sense in the assessment of risk for working at height, and you’re not expected to wear a harness and climbing ropes in order to use a step ladder.

Incorrect equipment and misuse of equipment

One of the biggest causes of incidents and accidents when working at height is using the wrong equipment, or misusing equipment. Setting up a scaffolding tower incorrectly can be just as dangerous as using the wrong type of scaffolding for the job. Similarly, if you have to put a step ladder onto a table in order to reach something, you’re misusing the ladder for it’s intended purposes.

Using no equipment while working at height

Sometimes people who are not aware of the risks of working at height may undertake dangerous work where they do not take any precautions or use any equipment while working at height. This can be common in construction and demolition work, where workers may take on extra risk in order to get the job done faster.

Using tools while working at height

The tools that you are using while you are working at height will change the way that you are interacting with your environment. For example, if you’re using a ladder to drill a wall with a regular hand drill, as you put pressure onto the wall, you’re changing how the ladder is being used.

You have added force in the opposite direction of the wall and this has the potential to overbalance the ladder.
The bigger the tool, and the more force that it exerts or force that it takes to use, the more likely that you are to fall or for the platform you’re using to topple.


Overreaching will change the way that your weight is distributed on the equipment, and this can topple a ladder, scaffold or even a Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP). There is also an increased risk that you will fall from the equipment as you are reaching away or over it.

Members of the public, workers or other

When using any temporary structure or equipment used for working at height, you must consider the environment in which the work will be taking place. Members of the public may alter your equipment, remove it or even steal it while it is in use.
Other workers may be working in the area, using plant or other equipment that could come into contact with your ladder/scaffold/platform and topple it.


The Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association (PASMA) have stated that even a moderate breeze of between 5.6 and 8.3 meters a second is enough that workers should cease working from scaffolding towers.
Different equipment will have different safety information and recommendations on when to stop working based on wind speed, but the speed of any wind present in your working environment should always be considered when working at height.

Don’t work at height

One of the best ways to prevent accidents, incidents and injuries resulting from working at height is to not work at height. If there is a reasonable way to replace working at height with a different type of work, this is often preferable. Where working at height can’t be avoided, you can use control measures to reduce the risk.

Use the right equipment for the job

The wrong ladder, incorrect scaffolding or a bad choice of MEWP can significantly increase the risk of a fall from height. As a health and safety advisor, I have seen countless sites with poor choice and use of scaffolding, including a vertical tower with guys wobbling on the top of it that had no stabilisers, no guard rails and no means of access.

Work from underneath

One of most frequent ways that people fall from height, resulting in death, is falling through fragile roofing and skylights. A simple and effective way to control this risk is often to work from underneath the roof, as opposed to working on the top of the roof. While working from underneath you can set up a scaffold tower, or use a MEWP which can often be much safer.

When working from height is a requirement, a specific risk assessment should be conducted by a competent professional who will be able to assess what risk is present and how it should be controlled.

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