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Work at height (HSE guidance)

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Work at height takes place in a variety of work activities, including construction, maintenance, cleaning... Safe access, safe working platforms and suitable edge protection are normally required. This includes permanent edge protection and temporary scaffolding for certain types of work

  • Work at height - basic concepts

    • Employers and those in control of work at height must first assess the risks.
    • Before working at height you must follow these simple steps:
      • avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so
      • where work at height cannot be easily 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
    • You should:
      • do as much work as possible from the ground
      • ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
      • ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly
      • not overload or overreach when working at height
      • take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
      • provide protection from falling objects
      • consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures
  • Step by step approach to working at height

    • Considering the risks associated with work at height and putting in place sensible and proportionate measures to manage them is an important part of working safely. Follow this simple step-by-step guide to help you control risks when working at height.
    • For each step, consider what is reasonably practicable and use 'collective protection' before 'personal protection'.
    • 1. Can you avoid working at height in the first place? If no, go to prevent
      • Do as much work as possible from the ground. Some practical examples include:
      • using extendable tools from ground level to remove the need to climb a ladder
      • installing cables at ground level
      • lowering a lighting mast to ground level
      • ground level assembly of edge protection
    • 2. Can you prevent a fall from occurring? If no, go to minimise
      • You can do this by:
        • using an existing place of work that is already safe, eg a non-fragile roof with a permanent perimeter guardrail or, if not
        • using work equipment to prevent people from falling
        • Some practical examples of collective protection when using an existing place of work:
        • a concrete flat roof with existing edge protection, or guarded mezzanine floor, or plant or machinery with fixed guard rails around it
        • Some practical examples of collective protection using work equipment to prevent a fall:
        • mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) such as scissor lifts
        • tower scaffolds
        • scaffolds
        • An example of personal protection using work equipment to prevent a fall:
        • using a work restraint (travel restriction) system that prevents a worker getting into a fall position
    • 3. Can you minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall?
      • If the risk of a person falling remains, you must take sufficient measures to minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall.
      • Practical examples of collective protection using work equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall:
      • safety nets and soft landing systems, eg air bags, installed close to the level of the work
      • An example of personal protection used to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall:
      • industrial rope access, eg working on a building façade
      • fall arrest system using a high anchor point
    • 4. Using ladders and stepladders
      • For tasks of low risk and short duration, ladders and stepladders can be a sensible and practical option.
      • If your risk assessment determines it is correct to use a ladder, you should further minimise the risk by making sure workers:
      • use the right type of ladder for the job
      • are competent (you can provide adequate training and/or supervision to help)
      • use the equipment provided safely and follow a safe system of work
      • are fully aware of the risks and measures to help control them
  • Scaffold

    • Scaffolding standards
      • Scaffold erected in Guernsey and Alderney must comply with the relevant British Standard BS EN 12811-1:2003.
      • In practice, the construction, erection and design must comply with the recognised industry technical guidance NASC TG20:13.
      • Scaffolders must be competent to undertake the work. They can demonstrate their competence through the UK CISRS or Channel Islands STARS schemes. The competence schemes provide a card to demonstrate they have achieved a basic, standard or advanced level.
      • All scaffolders must work safely and in accordance with SG4:15 Preventing falls in scaffolding operations.This includes wearing and using fall arrest (harness and lanyard) systems, or using advanced guardrails / step systems.   
    • Scaffolding permits
      • There is a fee to apply for scaffolding permits. pdf icon Please follow this link to see the current fees for licences and permits. [146kb]
      • You must obtain a scaffolding permit for scaffolds erected on or over the public highway or pedestrian walkway, or in a place where the public has access (eg staff / visitors car park on private land).  pdf icon Please follow this link for a scaffold permit application form. [589kb]
      • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will consider the application under the terms of the Public Highways Ordinance, 1967.
      • Permits granted under the terms of the ordinance will often require specific safety features to ensure that the general public are not put at risk.  This includes the erection, dismantling and the intended use of the scaffold.  Application therefore, must be made in advance of the date anticipated for the building of the scaffold.
      • Whilst the Ordinance predominantly covers scaffolds, other structures such as hoarding, suspended rails, cable wires etc., also require a permit.
      • It is necessary to obtain the consent of the Traffic and Highways Services or (in the case of the Harbour areas of St Peter Port and St Sampson, of Guernsey Harbours), before scaffolding is erected.
  • Protecting the public during scaffolding operations

    • If you erect or dismantle scaffolding in areas where the public normally have access, you should:
      • exclude the public from the work area whenever possible;
      • fence off the area and provide alternative routes which are clearly signposted and avoid additional crossing of the road wherever possible;
      • erect, modify and dismantle equipment when there will be fewer members of the public in the area and always use warning notices;
      • fans, tunnels and sheeting are a useful means of protection. Make sure the scaffold is designed to take the extra loading and wind resistance;
      • ask for protective measures to be put in place at an early stage during erection and have them removed as late as possible during dismantling;
      • lighting may be necessary in tunnels;
      • use brick guards, netting or other suitable protection to prevent materials falling;
      • do not drop or throw components during erection or dismantling;
      • make sure the working platform is constructed to prevent materials falling through it, eg double board scaffold platforms and insert a layer of strong polythene between the two sets of boards (a few small punctures will allow rainwater to drain away);
      • make sure scaffold components do not project where there is a risk to people or vehicles;
      • bolts on couplings should face away from the public or be wrapped;
      • consider enclosing the base of the scaffolding to prevent climbing, especially on or near occupied residential premises and schools. Consider the use of anticlimbing paint;
      • out of hours, remove ladders from the scaffold. Secure them in a compound or in storage containers;
      • make sure that doors to buildings or those allowing access to the roof, lift motor rooms etc are locked at all times when work is not in progress, eg during lunch breaks, at the end of shifts and at weekends;
      • consider using alternatives to scaffolding such as mobile elevating work platforms, cradles and mast climbers. These can reduce the likelihood of people gaining access to heights providing the equipment is properly isolated when not in use; and
      • debris chutes should be protected either by providing lids or covers etc.
  • Ladders and stepladders

    • Ladders and stepladders are not banned under health and safety law
      • In fact they can be a sensible and practical option for low-risk, short-duration tasks, although they may not automatically be your first choice.
      • Make sure you use the right type of ladder and you know how to use it safely.
    • Safe use of ladders
      • Maintain three points of contact when climbing (this means a hand and two feet) and wherever possible at the work position.  However, where you cannot maintain a handhold, other than for a brief period (eg to hold a nail while starting to knock it in, starting a screw etc), you will need to take other measures to prevent a fall or reduce the consequences if one happened
      • Make sure the ladder angle is at 75° - you should use the 1 in 4 rule (i.e. 1 unit out for every 4 units up)
      • You should secure the ladder (eg by tying the ladder to prevent it from slipping either outwards or sideways) and have a strong upper resting point, i.e. do not rest a ladder against weak upper surfaces (eg glazing or plastic gutters).  Securing devices are also available.  Footing for stability should be a last resort.
    • Safe use of stepladders
      • Check all four stepladder feet are in contact with the ground and the steps are level
      • Don't stand and work on the top three steps (including a step forming the very top of the stepladder) unless there is a suitable handhold
      • Ensure any locking devices are engaged
      • Maintain three points of contact at the working position. This means two feet and one hand, or when both hands need to be free for a brief period, two feet and the body supported by the stepladder
  • Common work at height myths

    • HSE have banned the use of ladders on building sites
      • No, this isn't the case. Ladders and stepladders can be a sensible and practical option. They can be used for work at height when the use of other work equipment is not justified because of the low risk and short duration (short duration means working on a ladder for no more than 30 minutes at a time); or when there are existing workplace or site features which cannot be altered.
    • You need to be formally 'qualified' before using a ladder at work
      • No, you do not.  You need to be competent. This means having the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to use a ladder properly for the work you will carry out, or, if you are being trained, you work under the supervision of somebody who can perform the task competently. Training often takes place on the job and does not always have to take place in a classroom. What matters is that an individual can apply what they have learned in the workplace.
    • I am working at height if I'm walking up and down a staircase at work
      • No, you are not. Work at height does not include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building.
    • You need to have two feet and one hand on a stepladder at all times when carrying out a task
      • No, this isn't true. When you need to have both hands free for a brief period to do a job using a stepladder (eg putting a box on a shelf, hanging wallpaper, installing a smoke detector on a ceiling) you need to maintain three points of contact at the working position.  This is not just two feet and one hand, it can be two feet and your body (use your knees or chest to help with stability) supported by the stepladder. Ensure a handhold is available to steady yourself before and after.
    • HSE has banned the use of ladders to access scaffolds and you will be fined if you ignore this ban
      • No, this isn't true. Ladders can be used for access as long as they are of the right type (i.e. a suitable grade of industrial ladder), in good condition and effectively secured (tied) to prevent movement. You should ensure they extend at least one metre above the landing point to allow for a secure handhold when stepping off.



Public Highways Ordinance 1967 as amended - version May 2016 Scaffold Permit - Application Form SG4:15 Preventing falls in scaffolding operations The Organisation and Management of Health & Safety in Construction [Expired 01 December 2020] 5 Steps to Risk Assessment Protecting the public during construction work

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