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Regulations for Working at Height: Explained

When workers work at heights there are always risks of falling. Construction has the highest fatalities of any industry, and deaths often resulted from falling from heights, which is why employers must adhere to all regulations for working at height. The Work at Height Regulations came into effect in 2005 to prevent workplace deaths and accidents. In this blog post, we discuss the eight regulations for Working at Height in plain language. 

Photo credit: Boris Zhigun via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

What do the regulations say?

For working at heights there are regulations that stipulate employers need the following...

Requirements for existing places of work and means of access or egress at height. Requirements for guard-rails, toe-board, barriers, and similar collective means of protection. Requirements for working platforms. Requirements for collective safeguards for arresting falls. Requirements for personal fall protection systems. Requirements for ladders. Particulars to be included in a report of inspection. Okay, so what does that actually mean?

Here are the 8 regulations (called schedules) for Working at Height: explained in plain language...  

Schedule 1: Requirements for existing places of work and means of access or egress at height. The place where workers stand should be rigid enough and strong enough for its intended purpose. It should hold any people and materials needed to get the job done. The structure should rest on a stable surface that’s strong enough to hold it - where applicable. Basically, if the structure is scaffolding, the ground below needs to be stable enough to hold the scaffolding, the people on it, and the materials on the scaffolding (the wood or bricks used, etc).

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The structure should have sufficient dimension (be big enough) to allow people to pass across each other’s paths safely, and should allow for materials to be used safely in the area (provide a safe working area). In other words, if it’s scaffolding for bricklaying, can the area support the workers laying bricks, the bricks themselves, and allow for safe passage from one end of the scaffold to the other without causing harm to anyone? The structure needs to have sufficient support to prevent falling. “Sufficient support” can count as kick boards or railings or any other protective measures on scaffolding, for example. The structure needs to have a surface without gaps which a person could fall through or an object could fall through that could injure someone below. So, if it’s scaffolding, the boards need to be close together not to cause harm or injury, so that a brick, for example, couldn’t fall below and hit someone or the person above cannot trip or fall between boards. The structure needs to be constructed, used, and maintained in a condition that prevents slips, trips, and falls that stops people being caught between the structure and the building (being worked on) or - if it has moving parts - those parts need to be prevented from moving in a way that can cause harm when workers are working at a height. Basically, if it’s scaffolding, it needs to be inspected for safety, there needs to be measures in place so people don’t slip or get trapped between the scaffolding and the building, and if there are moving items on the scaffolding, they need to be secured for safety when not in use.   Schedule 2: Requirements for guard-rails, toe-board, barriers, and similar collective means of protection. This section discusses the requirements for guard-rails, toe-boards, barriers, and other protective means to protect workers who work at heights. Protection should have the right dimensions, strength, and rigidity for intended purpose. It should be placed and secured so that it cannot accidentally become displaced (get moved) and open itself up to hazards. It should also be placed to prevent workers or objects from falling. For construction, there needs to be a top guard-rail or other protection that is at least 950 mm (or 910 mm for existing structures) above the edge from which anyone could fall.

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Toe boards should be high enough so that a person or object cannot fall from the height, and guard-rails should provide similar protection, and each gap should not be more than 470 mm (see image above).   All structures intended for protection should provide protection, be strong enough, and be attached securely. For example, if a person was to fall against the guardrails and toeboards in the image above at force, the guardrails and toeboards shouldn’t break or falter and should protect the worker and objects on the scaffolding from falling. image credit


There should not be any side openings (lateral openings) on the structure except at entry points such as where there is a ladder or stairway and the opening is necessary. The protective measures should only be removed for the amount of time it takes to enter the scaffolding from the opening (ladder or stairway), and replaced as soon as possible. No tasks should be performed when the protective measures are open except in cases where other safety measures are in place that would ensure no harm would come to workers. Basically, if there’s a doorway, work should pause as people are entering and exiting, and the safety measures should be replaced when a person has finished entering or exiting (see images above).


Schedule 3: Requirements for working platforms.


Part 1: Requirements for all working platforms All platforms must be stable enough and strong enough to handle people, objects, tools, and anything else they must support. All platforms need to be strong enough for their intended purpose. For wheeled structures, items shouldn’t move by themselves (inadvertently) during working at height. Moving objects should be attached to a bearing surface or another structure and not be slippery. All platforms should be stable when they are being constructed and dismantled. They should always be dismantled in a way that will not allow for displacement (movement) that could harm someone. If platforms are altered or modified, they need to remain stable when modified or altered. Working platforms should be safe enough to allow people and people carrying objects to pass each other safely. The platforms shouldn’t have gaps where people or objects could fall, causing injury or risk. When constructed, platforms should be maintained in their original condition and should not be slippery or allow for people being caught between structures. Any platforms should not be overloaded as to risk collapse or deformation (warping, bending, etc) that would make it unsafe for workers to use.


Part 2: Additional Requirements for scaffolding Calculations for strength and stabilities need to be made unless calculations are already available, or the scaffolding is assembled conforming to generally recognized standard configurations. Depending on the complexity of the scaffolding, there should be a use and dismantling plan drawn up by a qualified (competent) person. The plan may be standard with supplemented items relating to specific details of the new scaffolding structure. A copy of the plan and instructions should be available for those who are assembling, dismantling, or altering the scaffolding up until the point it is completely deconstructed and taken down. The dimensions, form, and layout of the scaffolding decks need to be appropriate for the work that will be done, the loads, and allow for safe passing. There should be health and safety signs in place when the scaffold cannot be used, during assembly, alteration, or dismantling, and the area should be barred to prevent access to the danger zone. A supervisor must be present for any assembly, dismantling, or alteration to the scaffolding, and that person should be competent, have appropriate training, and address specific risks associated with the action. During assembly, alteration, or dismantling of scaffolding, the supervisor needs to understand any plans being carried out, provide safe conditions during the work, use measures to prevent people or objects falling, provide safety measures for weather changes, calculate the permitted loads (how much load the scaffold can take when it’s not fully built), and asses any other risks that the action may pose. Basically, someone should be responsible for the safe construction and dismantling of the scaffolding itself.


Schedule 4: Requirements for collective safeguards for arresting falls.


Safeguards should be used if a risk assessment finds that the work can be done safely using the safeguard without compromising its effectiveness. Safeguards should be used if other safer work equipment cannot be used. Safeguards should be used if enough people have received training on that safeguard, including rescue procedures. Safeguards need to be suitable and strong enough to stop falls of any people likely to fall. For safeguards that need to be attached to something, they need to be attached to required anchors, and the attachment should be strong and stable enough to provide safety even if that person adds a load. The safeguard should prevent falls and allow for rescue. Think of a safety harness here. It should be attached securely and be able to carry the load of the person wearing it plus any equipment that may be worn and in hand. For safeguards like airbags, landing mats, or other such safeguards, they need to be stable and have enough clearance - for objects that distort when they stop falls. In other words, if the object on which someone will fall will spread out, there needs to be enough room for it to spread out. Safeguards shouldn’t cause injury to people if they fall.


Schedule 5: Requirements for personal fall protection systems.


Part 1: Requirements for fall protection systems Personal fall protection systems should only be used if the risk assessment shows that the work can be performed safely when using the system, and other safer equipment isn’t practicable. The users of the protection systems need to be trained on how to operate these systems and how to rescue people who have fallen. Personal fall systems need to be suitable and strong enough, even for added load. If the fall protection needs to be fitted, it needs to be fitted properly, designed to minimise injury to the user, adjusted to prevent falls or slips, and be designed to prevent falls even in the event of unexpected and uncontrolled movement of the person. Fall protection systems need to have secure anchors and be attached to at least one anchor and that anchor needs to be strong and stable and able to carry additional load. No one should be able to fall from tripping over or slipping over a personal fall protection system.


Part 2: Additional requirements for work positioning systems Work positioning systems should be used  only if the system has enough backup to prevent falls, and when there’s a line as a backup and the user is connected to it. Part 3: Additional requirements for role access and positioning techniques Rope access or positioning techniques should be used only when there are two separately anchored lines where the working line is used for access and support and the other is used as a safety line.

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The user has to have a suitable harness that’s connected to the working and safety lines. The working line needs a safe means of ascent and descent (up and down movement), and there needs to be a self-locking system to prevent falls if the user loses control of his movements. The safety line needs a mobile fall protection system which travels with the user in case of a fall. The risk assessment needs to be taken into account, depending on the job and ergonomic (efficiency and comfort in the workplace) constraints. The system may have a single rope when the risk assessment determines that the second line would create a higher risk to people, or other appropriate safety measures are in place. Part 4: Additional requirements for fall arrest systems Fall prevention systems need to absorb energy and limit force applied to the user’s body. Fall prevention systems shouldn’t involve risk to a line being cut. There should be a clear zone - for a pendulum effect (where the person swings back and forth from side to side on a harness, for example) - which doesn’t inhibit work or make the area unsafe. Part 5: Additional requirements for work restraint systems A work restraint system needs to be designed, if used correctly, to prevent the user from getting in a position where the user can fall, and it needs to be used correctly.  


Schedule 6: Requirements for ladders.

All employers should ensure ladders are used for working at heights only if a risk assessment has shown that using more suitable work equipment isn’t justified because of low risk, short time of use, or features that exist on site that can’t be altered.

The surface the ladder rests on should be stable, be strong enough, be firm, and be of appropriate composition (for example, soil, concrete, etc that’s strong enough to hold the ladder securely) to support the ladder, the person, and the load, and so the rungs remain horizontal. Ladders should be positioned to ensure stability during use. Suspended ladders should be attached securely so it can’t be displaced or swing -  with the exception of flexible ladders. Portable ladders should be prevented from slipping by securing sites at or near the lower and upper ends, by using anti-slip or stability devices, and by other arrangements that provide equivalent effectiveness and protection. Access ladders should be long enough to protrude above the landing place it provides access to unless other measures have been made to make sure there’s a firm handhold. Basically, when using ladders at entrances, they need to be long enough to allow the person using them to enter the workspace safely. Interlocking and extension ladders shouldn’t be used unless its sections cannot be moved relative to each other when in use. Before they are used, any mobile ladders should be secured so they don’t move at all when in use. For any ladder or run of ladders that rise above 9 metres (30 ft) above their base, there should be safe landing areas or rest platforms at intervals, where reasonable. All ladders should be used in a way that there are always secure handholds and supports for the user; the user should be able to maintain those safe handholds when carrying a load, except in cases of step ladders, handholds are unable to be used (not practical); or when the use of a stepladder is justified because of low risk or short time used.


Schedule 7: Particulars to be included in a report of inspection.

Inspection reports to do with working at heights need to detail the following:

The name and address of the person or company that requested the inspection. The location of the work equipment that was inspected. A description of what work equipment that was inspected. The date and time of the inspection Details of matter identified that could cause a health or safety risk to any workers. Details of action taken to reduce or eliminate the risks identified. Details of any further actions that are considered necessary to eliminate the identified risks (in points 5 and 6).   The name and the position of the person who carried out the inspection and made the report.


Schedule 8: Revocation of Instruments

In this section, certain regulations have been cancelled. To find out which ones, visit this link.

This schedule applies to certain Shipbuilding and Ship-Repairing Regulations (1960, 1983), Dock Regulations (1988), Fishing Vessel Regulations (1988), Workplace Health and Safety Welfare Regulations (1992), and The Construction Health and Safety Regulations (1996).

How do companies comply with these regulations? Employers have a duty that work should be... Properly planned Supervised Carried out by competent people Workers must use the correct equipment for the job Risks must be assessed first - low-risk jobs will be easier to plan, for example, than high risk ones. Employees...

Have a legal obligation to be responsible and take care of themselves and others affected by their actions.

Must co-operate with their employer to comply with their health and safety duties and requirements.  

Should report any safety hazards to their employer.

Need to use supplied safety devices and equipment in the correct manner, according to their safety training and instructions.

Must report if they think using equipment would be unsafe, and, if so, seek further instruction before continuing.


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