Working at height: improving workplace safety

19 March 2020
Between 2012 and 2017, falls from height made up 49% of fatal and 20% non-fatal injuries to construction workers in the UK, marking a clear requirement for enhanced safety procedures and education across the whole industry. Even in other industries such as food and drink, the HSE cite falling from height as a cause of 20% of fatal accidents, along with hundreds more serious injuries.

It is vital that employers know the risks involved in working at height in order to increase protection for their workers. With the correct training and risk assessments in place, accidents leading to injury or fatality can, therefore, be significantly reduced.

The risks of working at height

The main hazards associated with working from height are falling, or objects falling and hitting people. The majority of employees fail to realise a fall from as little as 2 metres can be fatal, which is why harnesses and height safety equipment are imperative to anyone working above 1.5m.

Serious injuries such as broken limbs and muscle damage are frequently recorded each year as a direct result of falling. In 2014, the HSE implemented random inspections at sites across the UK, which found around 40% of sites visited failing to properly protect workers – with no basic safety measures for those working at height the most common issue.

Best practices in the workplace

While the Working at Height Regulations 2005 encourages avoiding work at heights where possible, there are situations where it cannot be avoided. As a legal requirement, employers must ensure risk assessments are carried out prior to work beginning, and should also make sure the appropriate equipment, such as ladders and platforms, are in place, correctly maintained and regularly inspected.

Risk assessments should highlight all potential hazards, and indicate the necessary precautions to put in place in order to prevent injury. Other best practices applicable include:
  • Using safety nets or other fall-breakers to minimise the consequences of falls that do occur
  • Assembling goods before being lifted, to minimise the time workers spend in the air
  • Using harnesses connected to anchor points for employees suspending above 1.5m above ground level