Working at height


Falls from height are the most common kind of accident causing fatal injuries in construction. In 2010/11, 26 per cent of all fatal construction accidents were the result of a fall from height. All these accidents would have been preventable, and everything possible needs to be done to ensure that this type of accident does not continue occurring.

What is Work at Height?

There is a quite simple definition for what working ‘at height’ means: a place is ‘at height’ if a person could be injured falling from it. 

Work at Height Regulations 2005

Specific regulations exist about working at height. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 came into force on 6 April 2005. These Regulations replace all earlier regulations about working at height, and implement the European Council Directive 2001/45/EC which specifies minimum safety and health requirements for the use of equipment for work at height. The Regulations specify duties on employers, the self-employed and any person that controls the work of others. They apply to all work at height where there is a risk that a fall could cause personal injury.

Requirements on employers

According to the Regulations, employers must follow all that is reasonably practicable to prevent anyone from falling. To do so, the Regulations define a hierarchy of requirements that dutyholders must follow.

Dutyholders must:

  • Avoid work at height where they can. 
  • Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid working at height. 
  • Where the risk of a fall cannot be eliminated, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.

Dutyholders must absolutely ensure that: 

  • All work at height is properly planned and organised. 
  • Weather conditions are taken into consideration. 
  • All those involved in work at height are trained and competent. This includes that those who will be working at height are trained how to avoid falling, and how to avoid or minimise injury should they fall. 
  • Equipment is properly inspected. 
  • The risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled. 
  • The risks from falling objects are properly controlled (e.g. nothing should be thrown or tipped from height if it can injure anyone).

Requirements on employees

Also workers have to contribute to minimising the risk from working at height. All employees and all those working under someone else’s control must:

  • Report any safety hazards to them.
  • Use the equipment supplied to them properly and follow any training and instruction. 

If you think that following some instructions is unsafe, do seek further advice before continuing. Also bring the situation to the attention of your UCATT safety rep.  

Ladder safety

In the construction industry numerous falls take place in conjunction with ladders and scaffolding. It therefore is of major importance that contractors, designers and clients make efforts at a very early stage of a project in order to reduce the time that workers need to use access equipment like ladders or scaffolding.

Ladders can be used where a risk assessment shows a low risk and where the duration of usage is short, i.e. not more than 15-30 minutes depending on the task, as well as where a situation requires its usage.
If you have to use a ladder, follow the guidance below which helps you to reduce the most common types of falls.

Check the ladder before using it

It is important that the condition of a ladder is checked before using it. Detailed information on how to check leaning and step ladders are available at the HSE website (

In order not to fall off a ladder:

  • Keep your body centered within the ladder.
  • Always keep three points of contact with the ladder. 
  • Wear non-slip footwear, clean the soles of shoes if dirty.
  • Keep the rungs clean and in good condition.

To prevent the ladder from wobbling, slipping and falling

Position the ladder correctly on a firm, level surface.

  • Check the feet of the ladder daily.
  • Fasten the ladder at the top and bottom.
  • Rest the ladder on a firm surface at the top.

To prevent the ladder from breaking:

Do not exceed the maximum weight limit on the ladder. 

  • Position the ladder properly at an angle of 75 degrees (equivalent to the “1 in 4 rule”: feet of the ladder must be one unit away from hold for every 4 units up)
  • Only carry light materials or tools (up to 10kg). 

Always speak to your supervisor, employer or Safety Rep if you think it is not right to use a ladder for the job.

Further information:

HSE website:

HSE Guidance document Safe Use of Ladders and Stepladders:

Work at Height Regulations 2005:

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