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Work at Height – What are your employer’s obligations to you?


I have been reading today about two firms who have been in Court Liverpool worker’s life-threatening roof fall.

The worker was removing asbestos roof sheets from a disused building in Poynton when he stepped onto a fragile panel and fell more than five metres to the concrete floor below. He was airlifted to hospital with critical injuries, before being placed into an induced coma.

Haydock-based Local Asbestos Services Ltd and Leicestershire-based Construction Contracting UK Ltd were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found they had allowed workers onto the roof without safety measures in place.

Construction Contracting was overseeing the project as the principal contractor and both companies had agreed that the sheets would be removed using a cherry picker or scissor lift underneath the roof. This would have allowed workers to cut the bolts holding the sheets in place, without the need for them to go onto the roof itself.

The court heard that, despite this, two of the workers, including the injured man, were allowed to climb onto the roof to remove the panels from above. No safety equipment, such as nets or harnesses, were provided to stop them falling or to prevent them from being injured.

The worker suffered critical injuries, including two collapsed lungs, blood in his left lung, fractures to his ribs and hip, and a ruptured left shoulder tendon. He was in hospital for a month and will be affected by his injuries for the rest of his life.

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. For example you are working at height if you:

  • are working on a ladder or a flat roof;
  • could fall through a fragile surface;
  • could fall into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.

A sensible approach must be taken by your employer when considering precautions for work at height. There may be some low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary and the law recognises this. Factors to weigh up include the height of the task; the duration and frequency; and the condition of the surface being worked on.

There is a common misconception that ladders and stepladders are banned, but this is not the case. There are many situations where a ladder is the most suitable equipment for working at height.

Before working at height you must work through these simple steps:

  • avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so;
  • where work at height cannot be avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment;
  • minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated.

Employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This includes using the right type of equipment for working at height.

Low-risk, relatively straightforward tasks will require less effort when it comes to planning. Employers and those in control must first assess the risks.

Your employer should make sure that people with sufficient skills, knowledge and experience are employed to perform the task, or, if they are being trained, that they work under the supervision of somebody competent to do it.

In the case of low-risk, short duration tasks (short duration means tasks that take less than 30 minutes) involving ladders, competence requirements may be no more than making sure employees receive instruction on how to use the equipment safely (e.g. how to tie a ladder properly) and appropriate training. Training often takes place on the job, it does not always take place in a classroom.

When a more technical level of competence is required, for example drawing up a plan for assembling a complex scaffold, existing training and certification schemes drawn up by trade associations and industry is one way to help demonstrate competence.

Your employer should always consider measures that protect everyone who is at risk (collective protection) before measures that protect only the individual (personal protection). Collective protection is equipment that does not require the person working at height to act to be effective, for example a permanent or temporary guard rail.

Personal protection is equipment that requires the individual to act to be effective. An example is putting on a safety harness correctly and connecting it, via an energy-absorbing lanyard, to a suitable anchor point.

When selecting equipment for work at height, employers must:

  • provide the most suitable equipment appropriate for the work;
  • take account of factors such as: the working conditions (eg weather);
  • the nature, frequency and duration of the work;
  • the risks to the safety of everyone where the work equipment will be used.

If your employer has fallen foul of their duties to you when working at height and you have fallen and suffered an injury, our specialised team here at Lance Mason work can help.  If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident at work, call our specialist personal injury solicitors on 08000 84 2000 or text ‘claim’ to 83310 to discuss your claim free of charge.


By: Lesley Layton