Working At Heights | Hierarchy Of Control Measures

Before undertaking any work at height or in areas with a potential risk of falling, safety precautions must be taken to reduce the chances of an accident. This is why it’s essential to familiarise yourself with the hierarchy of control measures and put stringent measures in place to protect the health and well-being of your workers — no matter how seemingly unlikely the possibility you may discover that someone has been injured from performing their duties in a way which does not adhere to these prevention techniques.

This blog post will discuss best practices for implementing the Hierarchy of Control Measures for dealing with heights and specific steps you can take today to ensure your workplace is always safe for all employees.

Importance Of Implementing Control Measures

Implementing control measures for working at height is extremely important for several reasons:

  • Preventing falls: Falls from heights are among the leading causes of workplace fatalities and injuries. Implementing control measures can prevent falls from happening in the first place, reducing the risk of injury and death.
  • Meeting legal requirements: Many countries have laws and regulations that require employers to implement control measures for working at height. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in fines, legal action, and reputational damage.
  • Protecting workers: Workers required to work at height risk injury or death if control measures are not implemented. Actions such as guardrails, safety harnesses, and safety nets can protect workers from falls and other hazards.
  • Improving productivity: Workers who feel safe and secure in their work environment will likely be more productive. Implementing control measures for working at height can help to improve productivity by reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.
  • Reducing costs: Falls from height can result in high costs to employers, including medical expenses, compensation claims, and loss of productivity. Implementing control measures can help to reduce these costs by preventing accidents from occurring in the first place.

Hierarchy of Control Measures For Working at Height

According to the Health and Safety Executive, working at height is the construction industry’s top cause of death and significant injuries in the workplace. The HSE defines “work at height” as follows:

“Work at height means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.”

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 set out the measures that should be taken to prevent falls when working at height is unavoidable. Together, these form the Hierarchy of Control Measures, described here in detail.

Working at height involves a certain level of risk, which can lead to severe injury or even death if control measures are not implemented. To ensure the safety of workers, the hierarchy of control measures for working at height should be followed. These measures are listed in order of priority, with the most effective control measure at the top.

Hierarchy Of Control Working At Heights

Level 1: Avoid Working at Height

The first and most effective measure in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height is avoiding working at height whenever possible. This approach significantly reduces the risk of falls and other accidents associated with working at height. Employers should prioritize this measure and only allow working at height if no practical alternatives exist.

There are several ways to avoid working at height, including:

  • Using extending tools: Employing long-handled or telescopic tools can enable workers to perform tasks from a safe, lower level without climbing onto roofs or high platforms.
  • Working from a lower level: Utilizing equipment such as cherry pickers or scissor lifts can provide workers with safe access to high areas without ladders or scaffolding.
  • Lowering objects to ground level: Whenever possible, repair or maintenance tasks should be performed at ground level by lowering the object, thus eliminating the need to work at height.
  • Identifying and avoiding fragile surfaces: Fragile surfaces, such as skylights, roof lights, or fiber cement sheeting, can pose a significant risk to workers. Identifying these surfaces before starting work is crucial, and taking precautions to avoid working on or near them.

Employers can substantially reduce the risk of falls and other hazards by prioritizing avoiding working at heights. This strategy is the most effective control measure and should be considered before resorting to other, less effective measures.

Level 2: Prevent Falls Using the Existing Workplace

The second level in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height involves using the existing workplace to prevent falls. Employers should identify safe places within the workplace that can be utilized to carry out tasks at height, such as balconies, parapets, or machinery with fixed guardrails. Using existing safe locations is preferable, as it eliminates the need for additional protective equipment and reduces fall risks.

Key aspects of using the existing workplace to prevent falls include:

  • Identifying safe places: Assess the workplace to identify locations that can be used for work at height, such as balconies, parapets, or fixed platforms with guardrails.
  • Using existing safety measures: Utilize existing safety features, such as guardrails, handrails, and safety barriers, to prevent falls.
  • Maintaining workplace safety measures: Ensure existing safety measures are properly maintained and inspected regularly to guarantee their effectiveness and security.
  • Assessing workplace risks: Not all existing workplaces may be safe for working at height. Conduct a thorough risk assessment before allowing workers to perform tasks at height and implement additional protective measures if necessary.

By using the existing workplace to prevent falls, employers can minimize the need for additional protective equipment and reduce the risk of accidents related to working at height. This level of control should be considered after first attempting to avoid working at height altogether.

Hierarchy Of Control Measures For Working At Height

Level 3: Prevent Falls Using Collective Equipment

The third level in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height involves using collective equipment to prevent falls when there is no existing safe place to work from. Collective equipment is designed to protect everyone potentially at risk from falling, not just individual workers. It should be used whenever possible to provide a safer working environment at height.

Key aspects of preventing falls using collective equipment include:

  • Selecting appropriate collective equipment: Choose equipment, such as external advance guardrails or collective protection units based on the specific requirements of the work situation.
  • Proper installation: Ensure that collective equipment is installed correctly, providing a secure barrier or enclosure to prevent falls.
  • Regular inspection and maintenance: Inspect and maintain collective equipment regularly to ensure that it prevents falls effectively.
  • Worker training: Train workers on using collective equipment safely and effectively, ensuring they understand the importance of correctly using it.

By using collective equipment, employers can create a safer working environment for everyone potentially at risk from falls when working at height. This level of control should be considered when there is no existing safe place to work and after attempting to avoid working at height or using the existing workplace to prevent falls.

Level 4: Prevent Falls Using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The fourth level in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height involves using personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent falls. PPE should only be used as a last resort when other control measures, such as avoiding working at height, using the existing workplace, or using collective equipment, cannot adequately prevent falls.

Key aspects of preventing falls using PPE include:

  • Selecting appropriate PPE: Choose PPE, such as safety harnesses, belts with short lanyards, or fall arrest systems, based on the specific requirements of the work situation.
  • Worker training: Ensure workers are trained on the proper use of PPE, including inspecting, adjusting, and maintaining the equipment.
  • Ensuring PPE is fit for purpose: PPE must be appropriate for the specific task and meet relevant safety standards to provide adequate protection against falls.
  • Prioritizing other control measures: PPE should only be used as the last line of defense when all other control measures cannot effectively prevent falls. Employers should prioritize using collective equipment and existing safe places before relying on PPE.

Using PPE for working at height is the final measure in the hierarchy of control measures and should be employed when all other measures are insufficient. Employers must prioritize other control measures before resorting to PPE to ensure the highest level of safety for workers working at height.

Working At Heights Hierarchy Of Control

Level 5: Mitigate (Minimise Distance Using Collective Equipment)

The fifth level in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height is to mitigate the consequences of a fall. This level of control measure should only be used when all other control measures have been exhausted, and there is still a risk of falling. The purpose of mitigation is to minimize the impact of a fall and reduce the likelihood of severe injury or death.

Key aspects of mitigating falls using collective equipment include:

  • Selecting appropriate protective equipment: Choose protective equipment, such as safety nets, airbags, or soft landing systems, based on the specific requirements of the work situation.
  • Proper installation and maintenance: Ensure that the protective equipment is installed correctly, inspected, and maintained to provide adequate protection in the event of a fall.
  • Worker training: Train workers on how to use the equipment safely and effectively, ensuring that they understand the importance of using the equipment correctly.
  • Prioritizing other control measures: Mitigation should only be used as the last resort when all other control measures have been exhausted. Employers should prioritize other control measures before relying on mitigation to prevent falls.

By using collective equipment to mitigate the consequences of a fall, employers can minimize the potential impact of a fall and reduce the likelihood of severe injury or death. This level of control should only be considered after all other measures in the hierarchy have been exhausted and a risk of falling still remains.

Level 6: Mitigate Distance Using PPE

The sixth level in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height involves mitigating the distance of a fall using personal protective equipment (PPE). This level of control measure aims to minimize the distance a worker may fall if they lose their footing.

Key aspects of mitigating the distance of a fall using PPE include:

  • Selecting appropriate PPE: Choose PPE, such as safety harnesses or fall arrest systems, based on the specific requirements of the work situation.
  • Worker training: Ensure workers are trained on the proper use of PPE, including inspecting, adjusting, and maintaining the equipment.
  • Ensuring PPE is fit for purpose: PPE must be appropriate for the specific task and meet relevant safety standards to provide adequate protection against falls.
  • Prioritizing other control measures: Employers should prioritize other control measures, such as using collective equipment and existing safe places, before using PPE to prevent falls.
  • Assessing risks and suitability: Employers must assess the risks associated with each task and use appropriate control measures accordingly, as not all PPE suits every situation.

Mitigating the distance of a fall using PPE is the final measure in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height. Employers should prioritize other control measures before relying on PPE to prevent falls and ensure that PPE is fit for purpose and appropriate for the specific task.

Hierarchy Of Control Measures Working At Height

Level 7: Minimise Consequences Using Collective Equipment

The seventh level in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height involves using collective equipment to minimize the consequences of a fall. This level of control measure is considered reactive, as it focuses on reducing the impact of a fall after it has occurred, rather than proactively preventing falls from happening in the first place.

Key aspects of minimizing consequences using collective equipment include:

  • Selecting appropriate collective equipment: Choose equipment, such as netting or airbags, designed to soften the impact of a fall and reduce the likelihood of injury.
  • Proper installation and maintenance: Ensure that the collective equipment is correctly installed, inspected, and maintained to provide adequate protection in the event of a fall.
  • Worker training: Train workers on how to use the equipment safely and effectively, ensuring that they understand the importance of using the equipment correctly.
  • Prioritizing proactive control measures: Employers should prioritize measures that eliminate or reduce the risk of falls in the first place, such as avoiding working at height or using existing safe places.
  • Implementing comprehensive fall prevention plans: In situations where it is impossible to eliminate or reduce the risk of a fall, collective equipment can provide a critical last line of defense to protect workers from injury.

Using collective equipment to minimize consequences is an important component of a comprehensive fall prevention plan. However, employers should prioritize proactive control measures that eliminate or reduce the risk of falls before relying on reactive measures to minimize the consequences of a fall after it has occurred.

Level 8: Minimise Consequences Through Training & Instruction

The eighth level in the hierarchy of control measures for working at height involves minimizing the consequences of a fall through training and instruction. This level focuses on ensuring that workers are knowledgeable about the potential hazards associated with working at heights and understand how to minimize those hazards.

Key aspects of minimizing consequences through training and instruction include:

  • Providing comprehensive training: Ensure workers understand the potential hazards associated with working at heights and how to minimize those hazards through proper use of equipment and adherence to established procedures and guidelines.
  • Tailoring training to specific tasks and equipment: Training and instruction should be tailored to the specific work and equipment used to ensure relevance and effectiveness.
  • Delivering training in an accessible format: Training should be delivered in a format easily understood by all workers, including those with limited experience or language barriers.
  • Offering ongoing education and updates: Provide continuous training as new equipment, procedures, or hazards are introduced, ensuring that workers are always aware of the latest safety information.
  • Prioritizing proactive control measures: Employers should prioritize proactive control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of falls, using training and instruction as supplementary measures to minimize the consequences of a fall.

By providing effective training and instruction, employers can ensure that workers are knowledgeable about the potential hazards associated with working at heights and understand how to minimize those hazards. This level in the hierarchy serves as a supplementary measure to minimize the consequences of a fall, while proactive control measures should remain the primary focus.

What Is The Hierarchy Of Control For Working At Height

What Else Do I Need To Do?

In addition to these hierarchies of control measures, those with a duty of care – the employer or factory owner – must ensure that work at height is carried out safely and with appropriate supervision. Sufficiently qualified workers must receive proper training and instruction on the work involved.

As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring that the correct equipment is used, following industry best practice guidelines, and that the equipment is in good working order (so it requires regular checks!). Adhering to these regulations won’t eliminate the risk of a fall. Still, it will make it significantly less likely – and the consequences in the worst-case scenario should be substantially lessened.

Conclusion

Working at height can be a high-risk activity that requires careful consideration and planning to ensure the safety of workers. The hierarchy of control measures provides a useful framework for managing these risks by prioritizing measures that eliminate or reduce the risk of falls, before relying on measures that control or mitigate the consequences of a fall. By implementing these control measures in a systematic and structured way, organizations can effectively manage the risks associated with working at height and create a safer working environment for their employees.

Ultimately, taking a proactive and comprehensive approach to safety is not only the responsible thing to do, but it also makes good business sense by reducing the risk of accidents, improving productivity, and protecting the well-being of workers.

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Author

Babar Mughal

Babar Mughal is an accomplished Health and Safety Manager at IKA Associates with over ten years of experience. His expertise is backed by a degree in Occupational Health and Safety and professional certification. Committed to continuous education, Babar stays at the cutting edge of safety trends and best practices, ensuring the highest standards of health and safety in the workplace.