Working at Height – Rules and Regulations

Working at Height - Rules and Regulations
According to the 2018/19 HSE ‘Health and Safety at Work – Summary statistics for Great Britain’, working at height in the construction industry is the top cause of death and major injuries in the workplace. Falls from height accounted for 8% of all workplace injuries with 144 workers killed at work, 35 of which were as a result of falls from height.

RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) Statistics

According to RIDDOR 2013-2018, falls from height were the most common fatal injury caused, of which:

  • 26% of fatal injuries were caused by falls from a height
  • This averages out to 37 fatal injuries per year
  • Half of all fall from height deaths of the last five years were in the construction sector

Source: HSE – Kinds of accident statistics in Great Britain 2018

This article looks at some basic rules for working at height and responsibilities of employers and employees under the Work at Height Regulations 2005, which have been designed to help employers and employees to work safely.

What is working at height?

The HSE’s definition of working at height is:

“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.”

You are working at height if you:

  • Work above ground/floor level
  • Could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or
  • Could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.

For example, this could be a broad range of activities, such as working on:

  • Ladders or stepladders
  • Roofs
  • Scaffolding

Remember, a “height” could also be a “depth” if it is below ground; for example, a cellar, excavations or foundations.

Regulations for Working at Height

In 2007, the Work at Height Regulations (2005), was amended to help further prevent the injuries and deaths that occur when work is being carried out at height.

It is the main regulation that sets out the rules and safety measures that should be taken in the event of a fall when working at height has not been avoidable. These Regulations only applies to workplaces, but the tips and advice given in this article could be equally relevant to DIY work at home.


The Regulations place responsibilities on all involved in working at height; that is:

  • The employer
  • Anyone who controls the work of others; i.e. those who contract out work
  • Self-employed
  • Employees/workers

Risk Assessments

Before commencing work at height, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment must be undertaken. This is a careful examination of the work to be done and the precautions and safe systems of work that must be put in place.

As well as complying with the law, a risk assessment is intended to focus on the specific dangers and hazards of the job to enable them to be addressed and controlled before anyone is harmed. The law acknowledges that not all risks can be eliminated, but aims to protect people as far as is reasonably practicable.

Safety Rules for Working at Height

  • Planning work is crucial. Check that there isn’t a practical alternative to working at height (i.e. could a tool or piece of machinery be used instead?), and if there isn’t, then the work MUST be carefully planned, well supervised and carried safely, so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Postpone the task if the weather makes work unsafe, for example, fog, high winds or ice
  • Understand the potential hazards associated with the task
  • Understand the necessity for any systems that have been put in place to prevent falls. Never remove anything; it is there for a purpose
  • Be familiar with the equipment you are using and use them according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Wear the correct PPE (personal protective equipment) if required to minimise injury in the case of a fall; e.g. safety harnesses or other fall restraint systems
  • Ensure the area is safe where the work is being carried out, and access to it must be in sound condition. There also must be systems in place for preventing falls such as guardrails, working platforms and barriers
  • Systems must be in place to prevent injury in the case of a fall; e.g. netting or airbags
  • Use the correct equipment for the task. Equipment must be:
    • Designed specifically for the purpose
    • Used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
    • In good condition and good working order

  • Equipment should regularly be inspected by a nominated competent person, which should be both visually and in-depth. In respect of scaffolding, nets, etc., inspections of equipment should be carried out:

    • Before it is used for the first time and then every 7 days, until it is removed
    • Each time it is exposed to conditions likely to cause deterioration e.g. following adverse weather conditions or following substantial alteration.
  • If a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) is used, then thorough examinations MUST be carried out every six months.
  • Inspections should be rigorous covering every surface, parapet and permanent rail. Written reports must be kept at the site of the work until the work is completed and then kept at a specified location for a further 3 months.
  • Working on fragile surfaces should be avoided, but if this is not possible, you must take reasonably practicable steps to ensure your safety and the safety of others — for example, old buildings during demolition or glass constructions.

The details of the safety requirements covering the places where work is carried out are set out in Schedule 1 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Employee responsibilities are to:

  • Report any hazard if they see it or are aware of it
  • Use the equipment supplied properly and safely
  • Follow the instructions given in training. If the worker has concerns about the instructions they have been given, they must report this immediately

Click here to go to the full Work at Height Regulations 2005 on the government’s legislation website.