Guidance On Undertaking A Work At Height Risk Assessment

Guidance On Undertaking A Work At Height Risk Assessment

It is important to undertake a risk assessment for work at height tasks/activities. This is important to ensure that the level of risk to individuals who may fall is well understood, so that appropriate steps can be taken to reduce those risks.

The first stage of the risk assessment is to identify if work at height can be avoided by designing the risk out, for example:

  • Window cleaning can be undertaken on the ground using long-handled brushes,
  • Control equipment can be installed at ground level,

If work at height cannot be avoided then the hazards associated with work at height must be risk assessed, namely:

Means of access/egress

Assess the risk of a fall from the selected means of access/egress to a place at height:

  • vertical or inclined fixed ladder,
  • portable ladders and stepladders,
  • mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPS),
  • man-riding basket (attached to a crane/forklift),
  • scaffold (tube & coupler),
  • mobile platforms and system tower scaffolds,
  • rope access (specialist contractor),
  • trestles and ‘hop-ups,
  • kick stool,

Work at height location

Assess the risk of a fall from/into the location where the work is undertaken:

  • roofs,
  • lift shafts,
  • elevated experimental and teaching rigs,
  • open/unprotected chamber/tank/well/excavation,
  • working outside the protection of existing hand-railing/guard rails,
  • top of vehicle lorry bed and tail lifts,

Can a fall be prevented by

  • replacing a ladder with a fixed stairway,
  • correct selection of temporary access equipment,
  • mobile elevating work platform (MEWP/cherry picker),
  • scaffolding instead of ladders,
  • portable ladder correctly inclined, footed and tied and maintaining 3 points of contact,
  • providing a net or airbags to minimize consequences of any fall,
  • fitting a fall arrest/restraint system,
  • installing temporary barriers whilst chamber’s/excavation’s are open,
  • fitting guard rails on top of tankers,
  • redesign so access is not required,

Fragile Surfaces

Assess the risk from fragile surfaces involved when working at height. Their presence in, or near the working area, increases the risk. A fragile surface is one, which would be liable to break if a person worked on it or fell onto it. Examples are:

  • fiber and asbestos cement roof sheets,
  • skylights,
  • corroded floor grinding,
  • incomplete composite tin roofs,
  • glass Reinforced Plastic panels,
  • crusted surfaces on sludge tanks/lagoons,
  • bridged materials in silos,

You should try and avoid the need to work on or near or pass across such fragile surfaces by:

  • repairing a skylight from underneath using a tower scaffold or from above using a cherry picker,
  • prevent a fall by using fixed walkways with guard rails to get across a fragile asbestos cement roof,
  • use suitable working platforms with guard rails during work on or near a fragile surface,
  • minimize the consequences of a fall by using nets, airbags or fall arrest,
  • where there is a risk of someone passing across, near to or working on, from or near to a fragile surface, prominent warning notices are fixed at the approach to the fragile surface. If this is not practicable, people must be made aware by other means (e.g. site induction, control of contractors documentation),
  • permanently fixed ladders that lead to areas near or adjacent to fragile surfaces must be signed and effectively blocked when access is not required,

Falling Objects

Assess the risk of people or materials falling. These must be controlled (e.g. through the use of guardrails and toe-boards or work positioning devices). Typical items at risk of falling would include:

  • materials, kicked or knocked-off,
  • fittings,
  • tools,
  • sheet materials (wind-blown),
  • temporary access components e.g. scaffold fitting,
  • personal protective equipment (PPE),

Materials and equipment must not be:

  • thrown or tipped from the height if it is likely to injure anyone,
  • stored in such a way such that movement is likely cause it to fall or collapse, overturn, become blown over or move unintentionally,

If the workplace contains an area in which there is a risk of someone being struck by a falling object or person, you must ensure that the area is clearly indicated and that access to unauthorized people is securely restricted.

Danger Areas

Assess the risks from working at a height near to any danger areas. Including:

  • proximity to overhead power cables or bus-bars,
  • proximity to fixed structures such as beams,
  • trap area between building and MEWP counter-weight,
  • areas under or around work at height,
  • protrusion into road or footways of temporary access equipment,


Assess any weather condition presenting a risk to those working at height, such as:

  • heavy rain,
  • snow or sleet,
  • strong winds,
  • ice and frost,

Staff should be informed that weather should be monitored as part of their ongoing dynamic risk assessment during work at height activities.

Identify People at Risk

An important part of any work at height risk assessment is the identification of those at risk when work at height is undertaken.

  • consider where people work,
  • permanent locations e.g. office premises, water, and sewage treatment works, depots and stores,
  • temporary locations e.g. porta-cabin roofs, sheds, and other similar structures,
  • unmanned and/or remote locations e.g. some field operations,
  • locations accessed by members of the public e.g. public areas of Campuses,

Consider people who may be especially at risk:

  • employees who work alone, e.g. cleaners, security staff, contractors,
  • people who are in isolated areas, e.g. maintenance staff, staff on cranes, reach trucks and catwalks,
  • young or inexperienced persons,
  • people who are unfamiliar with the premises, e.g. seasonal workers, contractors,
  • visitors, customers or those with disabilities who may not be aware of work at height risks or who may have difficulty in detecting the controls put in place to protect them,
  • people whose first language is not English,

Training must be provided for all individuals required to work at height, as a minimum, training must include:

  • significant findings of the work at height risk assessment, and the measures in place to reduce and control the risks identified,
  • details of the work activity and individuals’ duties and responsibilities under the safe system of work,
  • correct erection, use, and dismantling of temporary access equipment,
  • appropriate use of any personal safety devices,
  • safe use of all other personal protective equipment (PPE),
  • explanation of the emergency procedures,

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