Working at Height Hazards, You Need to Know

Check the Basic Hazards of Work at Height

Working at height is an ordinary requirement for many trades, such as roofers, tree surgeons, and painters. While it can be an exciting job, it also comes with some dangerous risks that need to be recognized and managed. This article looks at the potential hazards associated with working at height and ways to minimize them.

Common Hazards When Working At Height

  • Poor Conceptual Design Of The Permanent Works
  • Poor structural design
  • Poor functional design
  • Inadequate planning and provision of weather
  • Structural elements incorrectly erected or installed.
  • Poor (or perhaps no) workplace design
  • Signaling systems (manual, mechanical, electronic) malfunction
  • Misuse (elements and equipment not used as designed or planned)
  • Unprotected edges and openings
  • Loads insecurely attached
  • Release of pressure (concrete pumps)

Many Of The Hazards Which Arise Have These Causes

  • Poor mechanical design (breaks in use, not powerful enough, components fracture or malfunction)
  • Poor functional design (not adequately designed for the stated purpose)
  • Poor workplace design
  • Signaling systems (manual, mechanical, electronic) malfunction
  • Misuse (not used as designed)
  • Loads insecurely attached
  • Release of pressure (concrete pumps)
  • Poor maintenance (breaks or emits noxious gases)

These Cause The Following Hazards

  • Workers are put in dangerous positions.
  • Workers handling very heavy or awkward loads causing falls or injury
  • Falls due to collapses of partly built permanent works
  • Workers crushed by falling or otherwise moving elements or equipment
  • Falling machinery or parts of machinery
  • Falling loads
  • Crushing due to the impact of moving or toppling plants and equipment
  • Impact of the release of pressure
  • Falling from plant and equipment
  • Falls caused by the swinging loads, plant, and equipment
  • Limbs or bodies caught in parts of the permanent works or machinery
  • Physiological damage through exposure to weather
  • Poor ergonomics
  • Physiological and psychological damage through the stress of dangerous work
  • Stress caused by poor environment

Additional Hazards & Causes

Vertical Distance

The vertical distance is an obvious consideration in the potential risk of injury from working at height. However, although there is some truth in the expectation that the further a person falls, the greater the injury will be, a large number of fatalities actually occur as a result of falls from a height of just two meters or less, so it is not the only important consideration.


Roof work includes the construction and maintenance of roofs, such as replacing tiles, gutter cleaning, and chimney repairs. Many accidents occur during small jobs and maintenance work. Particular dangers arise with two types of roofs:

  • Fragile Roofs: Any roofing structure that is not explicitly designed to carry loads and only has sufficient strength to withstand the forces produced by the weather should be considered a fragile roof. Roofing materials such as cement, asbestos, glass, reinforced plastics, and light tongue and groove wood covered with roofing felt are all liable to collapse under the weight of a worker.
  • Fragile roofs should be clearly signed: The safe working method for fragile roofs usually uses roof ladders or crawling boards. These are laid across the roof surface, supported by the underlying load-bearing roof members, and distribute the worker’s load over a wide area, enabling the roof structure to sustain the load safely.
  • Sloping (Pitched) Roofs: Roofs with a pitch greater than 10 degrees. Falls from the edges of sloping roofs generally cause serious injury even when the eaves are low, as on a single-story building. If the person has slipped down the roof from the ridge, they can build up speed as they move down the slope and so be projected off the edge, which adds to the force of impact with the ground and the seriousness of the injuries sustained.

Deterioration of Materials

The condition of the structure on which people are working should be sound. However, materials deteriorate over time when exposed to the weather, attacked by insects, etc. Unsound materials represent a hazard in two ways:

  • The material can break when a person puts his/her weight on it, causing a fall through the surface.
  • The material can break off and fall to hit people below.

It may not always be evident that deterioration has occurred until it is too late, so care must be taken to ensure that materials are sound and secure.

Unprotected Edges

Where the edges of surfaces on which people work are open, the risk of falls or falling objects is significantly increased. This applies to various surfaces, including roofs, elevated walkways, scaffolding and access platforms.

Unstable or Poorly Maintained Access Equipment

Access equipment includes scaffolding, towers, platforms, and ladders. There are inbuilt risks in using such equipment, but they are increased if the equipment is not correctly stable and secured.

Any access equipment that is incorrectly sited, poorly built, or poorly secured will be inherently unstable; conditions such as overloading the equipment, high winds, or overreaching can then cause a catastrophic collapse or topple. Access equipment must be maintained correctly to ensure stability. This must be carried out by a competent person and is often subject to statutory requirements, e.g. inspection frequencies.


The weather can increase the risks associated with working at height:

  • Rain or freezing conditions can increase the risk of slipping.
  • High winds can make access equipment unstable, blow loose materials off and, in extreme cases, cause workers to fall off.
  • Cold conditions cause loss of manual dexterity and can lead to an increased risk of muscle injuries.

Falling Materials

Objects falling from a height are capable of causing considerable damage to both people and other materials they hit. The objects may be loose structural material, waste materials, or dropped equipment or tools.

  • Circumstances that contribute to the likelihood of falling materials include:
  • Deterioration of structures, causing crumbling brickwork or loose tiles.
  • Poor storage of materials, e.g. at the edges of scaffold platforms or in unstable stacks.
  • Poor housekeeping leads to accumulations of waste and lose materials.
  • Gaps in platform surfaces or between access platforms and walls.
  • Open, unprotected edges.
  • Incorrect methods of getting materials from ground level to the working area.
  • Incorrect methods of getting materials down to ground level, e.g. throwing.

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