Published 9 Sep 2023
What is Working at Heights?
Working at heights is defined as the performance of work at an elevated height of two meters or higher where workers are exposed to the injury of falling. This type of work is common in the construction industry. Working at heights is one of the biggest causes of preventable work injuries and fatalities around the world.
In this article
- What is Working At Height Risk Assessment?
- Top 5 Hazards When Working at Heights
- Strategic Planning When Working At Heights
- General Safety Tips for Working at Height
- Sample Working at Heights Procedure
- SafetyCulture Marketplace: Your One-Stop Work Gear & Equipment Shop
- FAQs about Working at Heights
- Technology to Identify Hazards When Working at Heights
- Top Working at Height Templates
What is Working At Height Risk Assessment?
A working at height risk assessment evaluates hazards and risks associated with working above ground/floor level. It is both a moral and legal obligation of employers to have a risk assessment done prior to working at heights in order to formulate and implement preventive measures against potential injuries and fatalities associated with working at heights.
Same as a regular risk assessment, a risk assessing while working at height involves the following steps:
- Identify hazards
- Evaluate the risks and determine who may be harmed
- Decide on protective, precautions, and control measures
- Document findings and implement them
- Review and update if necessary
Top 5 Hazards When Working at Heights
Working at heights is dangerous in more ways than one. Several situations, elements, and factors contribute not only to the overall risk level, but also to the nature of the hazards safety officers and construction workers may face on any given day. Below are the top hazards encountered when working at heights:
1. Slips, Trips, and Falls
The lack of process implementation for idle tools and equipment can cause platforms to be littered; increasing the risk of accidental slips and trips which could lead to falls. Improper footwear can also cause slips and falls. Finally, workers who report for duty while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or when ill or injured, are at a higher risk due to poor motor function.
Safety officers must ensure that control measures are in place in order to prevent such situations where the risk of slips, trips, and falls are increased.
2. Falling Objects
Another risk associated with the lack of a proper clean-up process are falling objects or objects that dropped from heights. This can cause personal injury to workers as well as damages to tools or equipment at the worksite. While workers may have tools, equipment, and materials on an elevated platform for easy access, designating areas in which necessary items should be placed can drastically reduce the chances of objects from being knocked out of the platform and potentially injuring workers below.
Safety officers must ensure that all workers, especially the ones working below elevated work areas wear hard hats at all times.
3. Faulty Work Platforms and Scaffolds
Elevated working platforms such as scaffolds and towers are essential for working at heights. It can also be extremely dangerous for workers if they happen to malfunction due to poor design and execution. Safety officers and scaffold competent personnel must ensure that elevated work platforms follow OSHA standards and are regularly inspected so structural issues are quickly identified and resolved.
4. Fragile Roofing
Roofs are not designed to handle the weight of workers. If they need to be used as working platforms, a proper assessment must be done in order to determine the control measures needed to ensure safety. Construction personnel can use roof ladders or crawling boards designed to distribute a worker’s weight evenly on a wider area; allowing the roof to safely sustain the added weight.
5. Inclement Weather
Strong winds can damage structures and elevated work platforms. Rain and snow can make surface areas slippery, and fog can reduce overall visibility. During inclement weather, the safest action to take is to halt construction work. If it is absolutely necessary, safety officers must ensure that all workers have the proper training, and are fitted with the appropriate PPEs to reduce the risk of incidents, injuries, and fatalities on the job.
Strategic Planning When Working At Heights
At the start of the job it is best practice to determine whether a task requires working at heights. Unless necessary, It is advisable to avoid working at heights and instead encourage workers to use extended or long handled tools for hard to reach locations.
In the event that the work requires working at heights, determine if falls and accidents are preventable. If so, proper equipment (i.e. Mobile Elevated Work Platforms, scaffolds, ladders, PPE) should be used and inspected at all times to ensure that they are in good working condition. If falls and accidents are at risk of occurring or not preventable then safety harnesses and fall protection landing gear should be installed.
General Safety Tips for Working at Height
- Avoid working at heights when possible
- Use an existing safe place of work
- Minimize fall distance and consequences by using the right type of equipment
- Select quality PPE which is regularly inspected
- Always use the rails and fall protection barriers
- Be mindful of the fall distance. Never overload and overreach
- Determine the best anchor point to support you
- Select the correct gear when working at heights (scaffold, lift, ladder)
- Consider emergency and rescue procedures
- Train your team to be safety conscious
Sample Working at Heights Procedure
Construction workers should only work at heights when it is absolutely unavoidable. When the greenlight is given to work at height, the effective implementation of a standard procedure can drastically reduce the associated risks and hazards. Below is an example of a standard procedure when working at heights:
1. Perform a thorough inspection of elevated platforms and PPEs
Before any worker is allowed to work at height, elevated platforms such as scaffolds and towers, as well as fall arrest equipment and other PPEs, need to undergo a comprehensive inspection to ensure that they have no defects, damage, and design flaws. Aside from pre-use inspections, a maintenance inspection schedule should also be established.
2. Check the load-bearing capacity of platforms and fall arrest equipment
After ensuring that elevated platforms and personal fall arrest equipment are up to standard, verify their load-bearing capacity to ensure that you do not exceed recommended levels. For example, OSHA requires scaffolding to be able to bear at least four times the maximum intended load applied to it.
3. Check worker fitness and competency before allowing them to work at heights
Before allowing personnel to work at heights, safety officers must ensure that individuals have undergone and passed the training programs required for elevated work. Additionally, workers must be physically capable of working at heights and do not have pre-existing health conditions which may put them at a higher risk while performing their work. Lastly, workers must not be allowed to report for duty if they are under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs.
4. Secure objects, equipment, and tools when elevated
While working at heights, procedures for securing objects, equipment and tools should be in place to prevent falling objects from injuring those who work at the ground level. Attachment points, tool lanyards, tool holsters, and tool belts are simple, low-cost control measures to reduce the likelihood of worker injury due to falling objects.
5. Immediately report identified risks and hazards to concerned personnel
Any worker who identifies risks or hazards, especially regarding working at heights, must immediately report them to concerned individuals. In such a scenario, work must be stopped immediately. A competent individual, in most cases the official safety officer, must ensure that the risks have been mitigated before allowing work to resume.
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FAQs about Working at Heights
Yes. Since working at height poses risks to workers, it remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and serious injuries, especially when there are lacking or no precautions in place to help prioritize worker safety. Hence, a thorough risk assessment is a must for this type of risky job.
Working at height which can result to falling is mainly considered a safety hazard. Situations wherein site workers and office employees are exposed to the risk of potentially losing their balance or bodily support can lead to accidents and serious injuries.
The most common hazards associated with working at height include the following:
- Inadequate risk assessment
- Defective Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Incorrect use of or faulty ladders
- Lack of training and experience
- Platform collapse
- Bad weather conditions
- Falling objects
A risk assessment should be done before performing a working-at-height task, allowing enough time to identify potential risks, evaluate their severity, and implement appropriate control measures. By doing this, any necessary safety precautions can be put in place to minimize the risk of accidents or injuries occurring during the work at height.
Some of the safety measures that can be implemented to minimize the potential hazards during work at heights include conducting a risk assessment, giving workers proper training, using appropriate PPEs, providing the right equipment, eliminating other potential hazards, and encouraging open communication among team members and supervisors.
Technology to Identify Hazards When Working at Heights
Considering the high fatality and injury rates associated with working at heights, it makes perfect sense for companies to invest in the best tools and equipment to minimize such risks.
Using SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) as a safety inspection tool, safety officers and construction workers can improve risk assessment practices so issues are identified and resolved ASAP.
Take advantage of these industry-leading features to ensure the safety of your workers:
- Download ready-to-use working at heights templates via our public library, convert your existing paper templates into SafetyCulture’s digital format, or create one from scratch using our drag-and-drop template builder. No coding required.
- Customize template response types so you can filter responses and get the data you want. Take pictures and annotate them mid-inspection for a more comprehensive and detailed report.
- Assign actions to the right personnel when risks and hazards are identified to cut the lag time between issue identification and resolution.
- Automatically generate and send comprehensive, professional reports after completing your inspections. No need to manually compile data. Streamline safety reporting with automatic report-sharing.
- Keep your inspection data safe via unlimited cloud storage. Using custom permissions, you can ensure that only authorized personnel can access your inspection data.
Top Working at Height Templates
This working at height risk assessment template can be used to identify risk activities associated with working at height. This template includes a risk matrix to help identify the likelihood of the severity of risks identified onsite. Take photos of hazards and document all observations. Use the hierarchy of controls reference to identify the type of controls used to mitigate the working at height risks. Browse other risk assessment templates here.
This toolbox talk meeting record is ideally used before commencing working at height. Encourage your team to identify and share hazards associated with work for the day as well as following up on previously unresolved hazards. Record what was discussed during the working at heights toolbox talk and have all participating members sign off on the SafetyCulture app.
Using ladders can be fatal if not correctly inspected and used. This template to assess the risk of ladders and help minimise incidents involving ladders. Start by recording the ladder profile, labels and parts. Then capture photo evidence of damages, dents and other deformities. Lastly, rate the overall condition of the ladder and provide recommendations. Click here for more ladder safety template resources.
Use this template to ensure a stable foundation of a scaffold before working on it. Assess the risk of using a scaffold by checking the structure of the scaffold, its base, height, and dimensions. Next, inspect the components and capture photo defects. Finally, rate the overall condition of the scaffold and ensure the correct tagging is in place.
Use this template to ensure fall protection by using a safety harness when working at heights. Start by checking the labels to determine the type, model and date of manufacturer of the harness. Next, capture photos of the harness and its components (snap hooks, lanyard and tie-off adaptors/anchorages) and determine if it is in good quality before use. Complete the inspection by providing recommendations and comments.
Wearing the proper equipment reduces the possibility of falling, slipping, and tripping when working at heights. Use this working at height safety PPE checklist to describe the hazard, select suitable PPE, then check the quality of PPE and take photo for further evidence of observation. Lastly, summarize the inspection by providing recommendations.