Working at Height Regulations 2005: How to keep staff safe at height

Working at height carries a great deal of risk: it’s responsible for 28% of fatal and 7% of non-fatal injuries to workers, according to the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Due to this increased risk, you, as an employer, need to ensure that your staff are able to undertake this work in the safest way possible. In this guide, we will take you through the Working at Height Regulations, as well as helping you find the right training and equipment solutions for your business.

We will cover:

What is working at height?

Any task where one of your employees could fall from one level to another and injure themselves is classed as work at a height. This includes work:

  • above ground or floor level,
  • on an edge where the worker could fall through an opening or fragile surface, and
  • at ground level where the worker could fall through a hole or opening.

It’s important to note that tasks with the risk of slips and trips on the ground or floor are not classed as work at height, nor is work that involves a permanent staircase in a building.

What are the Work at Height Regulations 2005?

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is a government act that dictates how work at a height should be planned and carried out, with the main aim of preventing deaths and injuries. It came into force on 6 April 2005. Like other health and safety legislation, an employer who is found to have breached these regulations is considered to have broken the law.


Who do the working at height regulations apply to?

The Work at Height Regulations apply to all employers and those who control work at height (for example, a building owner who hires contractors), as well as people who are self-employed.

It should also be noted that, alongside those who control work at height, workers also have certain responsibilities that are set out by the act. See our employee responsibility section for more details.

What do I need to do to comply with the Work at Height Regulations?

To comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005, you will need to fulfil the hierarchy it sets out for you as an employer or controller of work. These are:

  • Where at all possible, you need to avoid any work at height.
  • When work at height is unavoidable, you must take measures to eliminate risks.
  • When risk can’t be eliminated, you must take measures to minimise the distance and consequence of a fall.

When work at a height must take place, you must assume the following responsibilities:

  • All risks must be properly assessed and managed (including risk from fragile surfaces and any risk from falling objects).
  • Anyone who is involved in working at height needs to be competent.
  • All work at height needs to be fully planned and organised in advance. This includes strategies for any emergencies or rescues that may need to take place.
  • Any risk needs to be managed with the appropriate equipment, and you need to make sure that it is used.
  • All of the equipment used for work at height needs to be inspected and maintained.

Who is ‘competent’ to work at height?

A ‘competent’ person for work at height is someone with the right skills, knowledge, and experience to safely carry out the job. If you have an employee who is currently training, their work at height will need to be supervised by someone who has already attained a high level of competence. As an employer, you have a responsibility to make sure that all work at height is planned, supervised, and carried out by a competent person.

The level of competence required depends on the complexity of the job. For low-risk, short-duration (less than 30 minutes) work at a height with a ladder, your staff may only need basic training in how to use the equipment safely. In these cases, instruction can usually be provided on the job.

For more technical tasks where a high level of competence is required, you will need to make sure that your employee’s training is up to scratch. A good way of providing a high standard of instruction is to allow your competent person(s) to attend trade or industry association training courses or to get themselves certified.

You can find out more about how to appoint a competent person in your workforce by reading the HSE’s guidance on competence.

What are my employees’ responsibilities when working at height?

While the bulk of responsibilities set out in the Work at Height Regulations fall to you, the employer, your employees also have legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and other people who may be at risk due to their actions. They also have an obligation to co-operate with the health and safety measures that you put in place.

The Regulations require staff to report any safety hazard to you as soon as they notice it, so it can be remedied as soon as possible. They must also use the safety equipment that you supply in the way that they have been instructed in their training.

It’s a good idea to keep an open dialogue with your employees on health and safety matters, to promote an open working environment. You need to speak to them directly — or through an appointed or elected health and safety representative — about the risks and safety measures related to working at height. The Regulations set out requirements for issues you need to consult with your workforce on risk management:

  • You need to speak to them about risks related to their work.
  • You need to discuss proposals to manage any risks.
  • You need to consult them about the best way in which you should deliver training.

If you’re looking for more information about how to bring your staff into the health and safety process, the HSE has detailed guidance about consulting and involving your workers that you should read.

Working at height risk assessment

You should assess the risks associated with any work at height, as this will allow you to follow the hierarchy set out by the Regulations.

You could integrate this into a wider risk assessment of your working environment (as required by health and safety law), or you could carry out a one-off assessment for a specific work at height job.

Working at height risk assessment checklist

As part of any risk assessment you carry out, you should:

  • Identify the risks: Take time to identify any potential risks by walking around your workplace and noting them down. Remember to include non-routine operations, like cleaning and maintenance. Be sure to get your employees’ input, as they may be aware of additional risks that you’ve missed.
  • Identify who may be at risk: Consider how your employees, visitors, non-permanent staff (e.g. cleaners or contractors), and members of the public could be harmed by the risks you’ve written down.
  • Assess the level of risk and decide on precautions: Once you have a list of risks and who may be harmed, you should evaluate the level of risk and decide on a course of action to eliminate or reduce it. We take a closer look at choosing the right protection in the next section of this guide.
  • Make a record of your findings: If you have more than five employees, you need to keep a record of your findings. This documentation should show: a proper check was made, you considered who may be at risk, you covered all significant hazards, what action you’ve taken to reduce risk, and how you involved your employees in the process.
  • Review your risk assessment and update: You will need to continuously review your assessment, particularly if you change procedure or equipment.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a useful guide on what the law requires from a risk assessment and how you should carry one out.

Managing risk when working at height

During your risk assessment process, you will have identified the risks around work at height that will need to be addressed to protect your staff and anyone else present in your place of work.

Let’s take a look at how you can identify the best option for reducing risk. For each potential task your workers may have to carry out at a height, you can work through the following questions to find the most appropriate measures to put in place.

Is there any way to avoid work at height completely?

You should always attempt to eliminate the need to work at height — this should take priority over other protective measures.

For example:

  • Can your employees use extendable tools or mechanical lifting equipment, such as a crane or goods lift, to remove the need for a ladder?
  • When installing new equipment, can anything that will need regular maintenance, such as a control panel or fuse box, be located at ground level rather than at a height to avoid future risk?
  • Could you use a winch system to lower lighting rigs to the ground?

Is there a way to prevent a fall if elimination is impossible?

If you aren’t able to eliminate the need for work at height, the next solution to consider is how you can ensure potential falls are prevented when it is being carried out.

For example:

  • Can you utilise a space that is already safe (a non-fragile roof with permanent guard rail) to carry out work?
  • Could you use a loading platform to load and unload vehicles?
  • Could you use a mobile elevating work platform to reach heights while providing fall protection?
  • Could you use a restraint system for work to ensure your workers don’t get themselves into a position where they can fall?

Is there a way of minimising the distance and consequences of a fall?

Should there be no way of removing the risk of a fall when working at height, you will need to find ways to cut the distance of a fall or severely reduce the consequences should one occur.

For example:

  • Can you use safety nets or use a soft-landing system close to the area of work?
  • Can you provide reliable industrial rope access on a building?
  • Could you install a fall arrest system at a higher level than work is being carried out to cut the distance of a fall?

Planning work at height

When your safety measures are in place and you’ve sourced or installed the correct equipment, you can begin to plan your work at height. The Regulations require you to do this in a proper and thorough manner. You must:

  • Make sure each place where work at height will take place is safe: You will need to do this before every job begins.
  • Consider any weather conditions that may increase risk: For example, rain or frost can make surfaces slippery, while fog or poor light can hamper visibility. When this poses a risk, you should delay any work to a time when the conditions have improved.
  • Ensure that there are no materials or equipment that could fall during work at height: If the nature of the job makes it impossible to prevent falling objects, you need to take steps to eliminate the risk of injury. For example, setting up an exclusion zone or providing netting around the work area.
  • Make sure there is safe storage for materials or equipment: You will need to make sure that there is a safe method of storing objects during work at height.
  • Make plans for an emergency or rescue: Consider what could go wrong during work at height and come up with procedures that your employees can follow to deal with the situation. Ensure that your workforce is trained in the emergency measures you put in place.

Working at height equipment

When you have settled on the measure you need to take against a risk, you need to select the right working at height equipment to ensure that it is eliminated or reduced.

There are two types of protective equipment that you can opt for:

  • Collective protection: A solution to the problem that will guard everyone who is at risk, most often a piece of equipment that requires no action from the person working at height, such as a guard rail or tower scaffolding.
  • Personal protection (PPE): A safeguard that protects the individual and requires input from the person at risk, such as putting on and connecting a safety harness to an anchor.

You should always prioritise collective protection over personal protection. This way, you can ensure that everyone involved is protected from the risk of a fall and remove any chance for human error.

When it comes to selecting your safety equipment, the Work at Height Regulations require you to provide the most suitable option for the work. You also need to think about how working conditions, such as weather or lighting, could affect its use, and whether it will stand up to the nature, frequency, and duration of the work at height.

If you need more guidance on which type of equipment you need for your work at height, the HSE have produced the Work At Height Access Equipment Information Toolkit (WAIT), which is an online tool that can suggest possible solutions.

Safe use of ladders and stepladders

The Work at Height Regulations have specific requirements for ladder and stepladder safety. Despite what you may have heard, ladders and stepladders aren’t banned for work at height, but they should only be used for low-risk, short-duration tasks. They also should only be used and checked by a competent person with the proper training.

The user needs to carry out a safety check before using the ladder, as well as after any events that may have compromised its safety; for example, if they are dropped or have been in storage for a long time. The check will allow the user to spot any faults before use.

For leaning ladders, a check should make sure:

  • the stiles are not bent or split;
  • the feet are not missing, worn, or damaged; and
  • the rungs are not missing, bent, or loose.

For stepladders, a check should make sure:

  • the locking bars are not bent or their fixtures damaged;
  • the feet are not missing, worn, or damaged;
  • the platform is not split or buckled;
  • the steps are not damaged or contaminated;
  • the step fixtures are not loose; and
  • the stiles are not bent or split.

The HSE has published a more detailed ladder and stepladder safety guide that covers essential checks, as well as how your workforce should use them correctly.

Improving safety with mechanical lifting equipment

When considering ways to reduce the risk of working at height, it’s important that you don’t overlook the usefulness of mechanical lifting equipment. The right machinery can be a reliable way to eliminate the need or severely reduce the level of risk.

Here at Penny Hydraulics, we design and manufacture a range of bespoke mechanical lifting equipment that can make work at height much safer. For example:

  • Our vehicle-mounted cranes can be used to access materials on the bed of a vehicle or another workspace at height, removing the need for employees to climb up and down.
  • Our vehicle-mounted loading platform can make manually unloading a lorry much safer by removing the risk of a fall from the back of the vehicle.
  • Our loading bay lifts are ideal for lifting and handling goods deliveries between different levels such as loading bays and docks.
  • Our mezzanine floor goods lifts enable users to move goods alone or on crates, trolleys or pallets safely and efficiently between two or more floors thus eliminating any unnecessary working at height.
  • Our hydraulic winch systems can lower and raise lighting installations such as chandeliers and high mast lighting for maintenance or repair, eliminating any requirement for work at height.

This type of mechanical lifting equipment can be an essential investment if your business operation requires work at height on a regular basis, so it’s well worth considering them as a solution.

Maintaining your safety equipment

The Work at Height Regulations require you to make sure that safety equipment is well maintained so it always in the best condition and ready to use. Doing so will ensure that your workers are not put at risk through defective equipment.

  • Manufacturer instructions or industry guidelines must be followed when equipment is assembled, dismantled, or installed permanently.
  • If the effectiveness of safety equipment is dependent on whether it has been installed or assembled correctly, it should not be used unless a competent person has inspected it.
  • Should your safety equipment be subjected to anything that might cause it to deteriorate and pose a hazard, such as adverse weather or being dropped, it should be thoroughly inspected by a competent person.
  • You are required to keep a record of any inspections for certain types of safety equipment, including: guard rails, toe-boards, barriers, or other collective protection; mobile or fixed working platforms; and ladders.
  • If you have a working platform used in construction that is more than two metres in height, it needs to be inspected after each assembly, after an event that could have made it unstable, and every seven days or less. Mobile work platforms don’t require an inspection when they are moved to a new location on the same site.
  • Any safety equipment that is acquired from another business or is rented must be accompanied by an indication of its inspection history, including the date of its last thorough examination.

Safety equipment training

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) requires that employers ensure that all employees using or supervising the use of work equipment have received adequate training in method, risk, and precautions associated with that equipment. You can find out more about these Regulations in our guide to PUWER.

With this in mind, if you’re looking to invest in new lifting equipment it’s worth looking for a provider who can deliver a high standard of training in their products, too. Here at Penny Hydraulics, we offer a comprehensive product familiarisation service that can ensure your staff know what they are doing when operating our machinery.

Consider and implement the advice in this guide to comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and ensure your work is properly planned and executed.

If you have any questions about the areas we’ve covered in this guide or need help choosing the right lifting equipment for your business, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Please remember that the advice in this guide is not comprehensive and you should always refer to the Health and Safety Executive for full guidance on work at height.

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