There are two possible answers to the question what is working at height?
The first answer is obvious – it’s working above ground level.
But the legal definition isn’t as straightforward and covers more activities than you might think. More importantly, there’s specific working-at-height legislation you need to comply with if any part of your construction project meets the criteria.
Read our guide to learn what is meant by working at height; and the guidance you must follow if the construction work you or your team do falls under the legal definition.
The Legal Definition of Working at Height
Working at height is governed by The Work at Height Regulations 2005, which defines as:
Work in any place, including a place at or below ground level, where a person could fall a distance liable to cause injury.
It’s important to note that working at ground level (or lower) can still qualify as working at height if there’s a risk of injury from falling through a fragile surface or open hole of some kind.
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (the Regulations) also apply if there’s a risk of falling when gaining access to or leaving a worksite by any means other than a permanent staircase.
What About Slips and Trips?
Slips and trips at ground level are legally separate from working at height. As explained by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which enforces the relevant legislation, a fall from height must involve a fall from one level to a lower level.
You only need to follow specific working-at-height legislation if the risk of injury comes from a potential fall from height.
What are the Dangers of Working at Height?
Year after year, falls from height are the leading cause of workplace fatalities. Out of 135 workplace fatalities over this period, some 40 were caused by falls from height in 2022/23, according to HSE statistics. Numbers were similar in 2021/22 when 29 workers tragically lost their lives due to falls from height, which was again the leading cause of workplace fatalities.
We could go back further through the HSE’s statistics, but the facts wouldn’t change. Falls from height are the most common cause of fatal accidents at work and have been for some time.
Falls from height are also one of the top causes of reportable workplace injuries, representing 8% of the total.
The HSE notes that falls from roofs or through fragile roof surfaces are the most common causes of workplace death or injury.
You need to be mindful of safety precautions and legislation when supervising any work at height but be particularly cautious when the work is taking place on or near roofs with:
- Roof lights
- Glass (including wired glass)
- Rotted chipboard
- Slates and tiles
How Do I Keep Workers Safe When Working at Height?
The HSE recommends that before you commit to any work activities at height, consider if there’s any reasonably practicable way to move those activities safely to ground level where there’s no risk of falling.
If that’s not possible, there’s plenty of HSE guidance for employers or those in control of working at height to help comply with legislation and keep workers safe. Your primary duties are:
- Properly planning for and organising work at height
- Confirming all those involved in work at height are competent
- Assessing risks, providing appropriate work equipment to minimise risks and ensuring it’s used
- Inspecting work equipment and maintaining it in safe working order
Employees also have to look after themselves and anyone else who might be harmed by their work activities. They must also cooperate with their employer regarding safety legislation.
It’s a common myth that employees need to be qualified to work at height, but its legislation states that workers need to be competent, not necessarily qualified.
So, if you’re an employer (or supervising work at height), you must ensure that anyone you delegate to has the right skills, knowledge and experience to safely do the job. And the level of skills, knowledge and experience required for competency scales with the complexity of the task.
For activities assessed as being low risk, employees might need awareness-level training to make sure they understand the risks involved and how to properly use any equipment provided. For high-risk jobs, further training and experience will be needed.
There’s a wide range of training programmes out there, with most offering some certificate that proves a certain level of knowledge. Certification can be a helpful indicator of competence when choosing who does what, but it’s not strictly needed.
Working at Height Training
While not a requirement, giving your employees working at height training can help you fulfil your legal duties and create safer worksites. Training can be provided on the job, but online courses help prepare employees for safer working without having to step onto a busy construction site. Workers can also complete the training independently, meaning your more experienced staff are free to focus on the complicated jobs, not supervising new team members.
Our online Working at Height Training will help trainees build competence and make your workplace safer. The course teaches the safety principles and it prepares employees to support the critical risk assessment and planning phases of any work activities at height. It’ll help make compliance more straightforward and you can be confident your staff are ready to work at height without any incidents or delays.