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All employers have statutory and common-law obligations in relation to the health and safety of their employees and premises. With regard to working at height, employers must do all that is reasonably practical to prevent any of their employees from falling while at work.

This includes carrying out a risk assessment before any work at height is undertaken and repeating the risk assessment process, if necessary, throughout the duration of the job. The assessment should highlight the measures that must be taken to ensure people are not at risk of falling from height. The risks associated with working at height should be assessed, and the risk of slips, trips and falls should also be considered.

Work at Height and the Law

Specific pieces of legislation relating to carrying out work at height include:

  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and The Construction Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1996, which cover all aspects of workplace and construction sites respectively, including the requirement to ensure that all areas where people could fall from a height over 2 metres are properly guarded or covered.
  • The Work at Height Regulations 2005, as amended by The Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007, apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. These Regulations place obligations on employers, the self-employed and any person that controls the work of others (for example facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height). Such duty holders must:
    • Avoid work at height where possible;
    • Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid working at height; and
    • Where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.

Duty of care

Duty holders must also:
  • Properly plan and organise all work at height;
  • Assess the risks and ensure that appropriate work equipment is selected and used;
  • Ensure that those involved in work at height are trained and competent;
  • Make sure the work is appropriately supervised and the area properly inspected;
  • Ensure that those involved in work at height have suitable and properly maintained equipment to allow them to carry out the task and are properly trained in the use of such equipment;
  • Consider factors such as the weather and postpone work if the weather conditions could endanger workers; and
  • Make sure workers have a safe means of access to and from the area of work, including controlling fragile surfaces

If in the worst case a worker does fall from a height and is injured, construction site managers and employers must have plans in place to deal with such an emergency. Failure to take specific steps to address risks may result in liability for a compensation claim; in the cases of the most serious and flagrant breaches of the law, a criminal prosecution may result.

The HSE has produced a Guide to the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended). This publication is written for employers, the self-employed and anyone who works at height, and tells you what you need to do to comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended).

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