By Drew Underwood, Senior Consultant

This was a question that I was recently asked by a friend of mine who works on site.

The answer… The question isn’t really that simple.

It is often assumed that there is an easy answer to questions like this one, that a number can always be quoted or a diagram can be checked. Whilst it is true that there is plenty of guidance and advice issued by the HSE, trade groups and companies that manufacture equipment. With work at height law, as is often the case, the emphasis is placed on the risk assessment findings of a competent person.

When it comes to work at height, the biggest cause of fatal accidents across the UK workforce, there is a relatively simple hierarchy.

  1. Can I avoid doing that work from height. Is there a different method, a new tool, a change of approach which would allow me to work safely from the ground?
  2. How can I prevent a person from falling? For this a physical barrier is needed. A guardrail, a solid working platform a restraint to allow someone to work from a high place without the risk of a fall happening.
  3. Can I minimise the distance or consequences? If the work does not allow for a barrier to be used, how can I make the fall shorter or the landing softer to lessen the chance of injury?

The question my friend should have been asking, was what is the safest reasonable way of doing the job? What lessens my chance of serious injury while still allowing me to get the work done in a sensible way.

There is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. Imagine how much your window cleaner would want to charge you if the law required that he built a scaffold to access every 1st floor window. But someone doing the same job on a block of flats? Suddenly the definition of what is reasonable starts to shift.

Whilst my answer may not have been as simple as he was hoping, it was at least more sensible.

If you need any further information on the requirements and the options for safely planning works at height our Work at Height Awareness course is a good place to start.


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