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Working at Height

15 September 2023

Working at height and falling from height is one of the biggest causes of death in the workplace and one of the main causes of major injury. Such injuries do not necessarily involve falls from very high scaffolding. They can be caused by any fall above or even below ground level such as an access ladder to an inspection chamber or sewer.


Working at Height Hazards

There are many hazards associated with working at height. The most common hazards include:

  • Using stepladders or unsuitable alternatives such as chairs or climbing on racking.
  • Working on scaffolding and other access equipment with inadequate fall arrest controls.
  • Falling through fragile roofs or skylights.
  • Objects such as tools falling from height and injuring those below.


Preventing Working at Height Accidents

Preventing working at height accidents is important on many levels. It can avoid costly legal costs but more importantly it can prevent human suffering and in the worst case scenario – human fatality. Preventing accidents is everyone’s duty, from employer to employee. Accidents most often occur:

  • People taking shortcuts and not using the correct equipment.
  • Equipment is not available or in poor repair.
  • Complacency, perhaps over-familiarity with the job.
  • Lack of awareness of the risks of working at height.
  • Inadequate training and supervision.


Managing and Selecting Equipment for Working at Height

There are a few simple – but important steps:

  • Carry out a risk assessment of tasks that are at height. Include in the risk assessment any fragile surfaces that might break if someone worked on it or fell onto it, e.g. fibre and asbestos cement roof sheets and skylights.
  • If at all possible, avoid working at height and consider if the task can be done in another way, for example using a sponge on an extendable pole to clean windows instead of climbing a ladder.
  • If working at height cannot be avoided, use equipment or other measures to prevent falls, e.g. guard rails, work platforms, podium steps, tower scaffolds, cherry pickers or scissor lifts.
  • When the risk of a fall cannot be eliminated, use equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, e.g. harnesses, netting and airbags.
  • Avoid working on, near, or passing across, fragile surfaces, e.g. repair skylights form underneath or provide fixed walkways with guard rails.

Additional measures to reduce the risk of a fall when using equipment for working at height include making sure:

  • The people have been trained to use it safely.
  • It is well maintained and regularly inspected.
  • There is adequate supervision to ensure people are working safely.


Working at Height – Ladders

Ladders are working at height equipment. Ladders may be suitable for light tasks of short duration, but suitable alternatives should be first considered. If ladders have been selected there are a few basic points to remember:

  • Always check ladders for damage before use.
  • Set them at the correct angle. The angle should be about 75° or the 1 in 4 rule, i.e., 1 unit out for every 4 units up. If they are at too steep an angle, the ladder could topple backwards and if too shallow an angle, it might slide down the wall.
  • The ladders must be secure. The ladders should be on firm, level, non-slippery ground. Ladders should not be leaned against plastic guttering. Ladders should always lean against a firm and resistant resting point.
  • Always grip the ladder and face the rungs when climbing. Try to avoid holding items when climbing but if you do need to carry something, have one free to grip the ladder.
  • Do not overreach. Keep your belt buckle within the stiles.
  • Keep both feet on the same rung throughout the task and don’t use the top 3 rungs of the ladder as this prevents a handhold.


Available Resources

The Health and Safety Authority of Ireland (HSA) has published a number of useful resources in relation to Working at Height. Some of these are:


Online Health and Safety Training

Proactive Health and Safety training is critical to ensure a safe workplace. An effective training program can reduce the number of worker injuries and deaths. It can also reduce instances of property damage, legal liability, illnesses, and missed time from work.

Health and Safety training helps establish a culture in which employees themselves help promote proper safety procedures while on the job. It is important that new employees be properly trained and embrace the importance of workplace safety. The role of training in developing and maintaining effective hazard control activities is a proven and successful method of intervention.

This is why we have established Myelearsafety school. We pride ourselves in how we guide, support and mentor our students. They receive support throughout their learning experience and into their working lives. Our staff have extensive training experience and also have many years industry experience. We understand the challenges that exist within Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety. Our priority is to ensure that all learners are fully prepared to differentiate themselves in the workplace after completing our Health and Safety courses.

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