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Falls from height
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 are designed to be a comprehensive framework governing all work at height in the workplace, from construction sites to factories to offices and retail premises.
Work at height means work at any place where a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. This includes working at ground level or below, for example where there are excavations or holes in the ground. It also includes obtaining access in or out of such a place while at work, but does not include the use of a staircase in a permanent workplace. For many businesses particular care should be taken during maintenance, repair and alteration work.
The regulations do not only apply to work at height, they also govern work on or near fragile surfaces and in addition require employers to take steps to prevent injury caused by falling material or objects.
The regulations set out a hierarchy for avoiding the risks of work at height which should be followed at all times:
• Work at height must be avoided where possible
• If work at height cannot be avoided, steps must be taken to prevent falls
• If the risk of a fall cannot be eliminated, work equipment must be provided and other measures must be taken to minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall.
Duties under the regulations
Work at height must be properly planned (this includes the selection of equipment), appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner which is safe, so far as is reasonably practicable. Work at height must not be carried out in unsafe weather conditions. The employer must ensure that no person engages in any activity relating to work at height unless they are competent or supervised by a competent person.
Where work is carried out at height, every employer must take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent a fall. Where work must be carried out at height, the employer must provide equipment to prevent a fall occurring so far as is reasonably practicable. If it not possible to eliminate the risk of a fall occurring, the employer must provide sufficient equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall. Full protection measures must be checked on each occasion before use.
The employee's duty
The regulations also impose specific duties upon those working at height. Such a person is under a positive duty to report any activity or defect which he knows is likely to endanger the safety of himself or another person. Such a person is also under a duty to use any work equipment or device in accordance with any training received and any instructions on how to use it.
Selection of equipment
The regulations require the employer to give collective protection measures (eg guard rails) priority over personal protection measures when selecting equipment for use during work at height. The employer must take account of
• The working conditions and the risks to safety at the place where the equipment is to be used
• The distance to be negotiated during access in and out of the site
• The distance and consequences of a potential fall
• The duration and frequency of use
• The need for easy and quick evacuation and rescue in an emergency
• Any additional risk imposed by the use
• Installation or removal of the equipment or by evacuation or rescue from it and the regulations in general.
The equipment must be appropriate to the nature of the work to be performed and the foreseeable loadings and must allow passage without risk and be the most suitable work equipment. The regulations set out detailed requirements in a series of schedules for particular types of work equipment.
The three-step hierarchy also applies to work near or upon fragile surfaces. If it is possible, work on, from or near, or passage across or near a fragile surface should be avoided. If this is not possible, as far as reasonably practicable, the employer must provide sufficient platforms, coverings, guardrails or similar means of support or protection and ensure that they are used, so that any foreseeable load is supported. If the risk of falling remains, the employer must take suitable and sufficient measures to minimise the distance and consequences of any fall. Where any person at work may pass across, or near, or work on or near a fragile surface, every employer must warn of the risk by putting up prominent warning notices at the approach to the fragile surface or where this is not reasonably practicable warn by other means.
Every employer must take suitable and sufficient steps to prevent the fall of any material or object. Where this is not reasonably practicable, the employer must take suitable and sufficient steps to prevent any person being struck by any falling material or object which is liable to cause personal injury. In addition, every employer must ensure that no material or object is thrown or tipped from height in circumstances where it is likely to cause injury. There is also an obligation to store material and objects so as to prevent risk arising from the collapse, overturning or unintended movement of such materials or objects.
Where there is a risk in an area of any person at work falling or being struck by a falling object, unauthorised access to that area should be prevented as far as reasonably practicable and the area must be clearly indicated.
Inspection of work equipment
There are detailed requirements in the Work at Height Regulations (Regulations 12 and 13) governing the inspection of work equipment, such as ladders, working platforms, fall arrest and restraint systems, scaffolding and guard rails.
Equipment whose safety is dependent upon how it is installed or assembled must not be used until the installation or assemblage has been inspected. Work equipment which may deteriorate must be inspected at suitable intervals and after the occurrence of any event which might have jeopardised its safety.
Working platforms used for construction work at over two metres height must be inspected every seven days. Whenever work equipment leaves a business, or is used by a business, it must be accompanied by physical evidence that it has been inspected. Records of inspections must be kept in a prescribed format. Records must be retained on site until the construction work is completed and for three months afterwards at the employer's office.