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Health and safety

Working at heights

If you are an employer you have a duty to protect employees and other persons working at heights. Falls usually occur during maintenance or cleaning and some common factors are: 

  • Lack of risk assessment
  • Failure to implement safe systems of work 
  • Inadequate instruction and training
  • Failure to use appropriate equipment
  • Failure to provide safe equipment

Accidents can be avoided by ensuring that work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by people who are trained and experienced in doing the job. 

Risk assessments must be undertaken and consideration given to the following: 

  • Reduce high level working and cleaning, for example:  use jet cleaners on the ground for high structure cleaning
  • Provide effective dust and fume extraction, reducing the number of ledges where dust can accumulate to reduce the need for high level cleaning
  • If work is absolutely necessary at height, then ensure that there is a safe system of work in place such as mobile scaffolds, adequate platforms or permanent fixtures
  • Ensure that staff do not use fork lift trucks or pallets mounted on the forks to provide a quick lift up to the task in hand
  • Ensure that all equipment where possible is located at ground level. Where this is not possible, permanent access steps or platforms should be provided with adequate handrails
  • Workers should wear slip resistant footwear  
  • Ensure stairways are clear
  • On roofs, loading bays and mezzanine floors where there is a risk of falling, guard rails and toe boards will normally be required. Exceptionally, reliance may be placed on fall arrest equipment, for example safety harnesses


Ladders are a common cause of falls. Before letting anyone use ladders you should check that they are fit to use the equipment that they are provided with. Employees or contractors should report any issues that may affect their safety, or the safety of others. 

You may not be able to use a ladder safely if you suffer from the following: 

  • Recurring dizziness
  • Epilepsy
  • Psychiatric conditions (including a fear of heights)
  • Heart condition
  • Severe lung conditions
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Significant impaired joint function
  • Medication that recommends you do not operate machinery 

You must regularly check that ladders are safe to use. Check for:  

  • Missing rubber feet
  • Damaged hinges or missing bolts
  • Split platforms on step ladders
  • Steps covered in chemicals or other substances
  • Bent back bars on step ladders
  • Bent and twisted rungs
  • Dented and weakened stiles (the sides of the ladder)
  • Rungs missing or replaced with string or another material
  • Add-hoc repairs

You must ensure the position of the ladder is safe so it is:

  • Prevented from slipping
  • Prevented from moving before it is stepped on
  • Safe long enough to do the job safely
  • Used without overreaching
  • Inspected and checked regularly where necessary

Ensure you have a handhold available to allow the worker to maintain three points of contact where possible.

Mobile elevated working platforms

Mobile elevating work platforms include cherry pickers, scissor lifts and vehicle-mounted booms which can provide a safe way of working at height. They allow tasks to be done quickly and easily, and have guard rails and toe boards which prevent falls. Find out more information about the safe use of mobile elevating work platforms 

Tower scaffolding

 Mobile access towers are widely used and can provide an effective and safe means of gaining access to work at height. However, inappropriate erection and misuse of towers are the cause of numerous accidents each year. Aluminum and thin-wall steel towers are light and can easily overturn if used incorrectly. Towers rely on all parts being in place to ensure adequate strength. They can collapse if sections are left out.

Before selecting or specifying a tower, you must be satisfied that it is the most suitable item of equipment for the job.    

Find out more information about the safe use of mobile access towers

Further information

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