What is working at height, what are the risks, and how to do it safely in your workplace
Published 28 Mar 2023
Working at height is the performance of any type of work at an elevated position where the worker is at risk of falling and getting injured as a result of insufficient or non-existing safety precautions. Different countries have their own definitions and rules for what they consider as working at height but they all agree that working at height is one of the leading causes of occupational injury and fatality across industries.
Working at height is one of the most dangerous types of work and is recognized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and fatalities.
Almost 900 fatalities occurred within a year due to falls, slips, and trips in the workplace according to the most recent data provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest HSE data from the UK reports that falls from a height is the leading cause of fatal accidents for workers. Safe Work Australia states that working at height accounts for 13% of all work fatalities between 2015 and 2019.
Due to the inherent risks brought by working at height, countries have established their own guidelines for what they consider to be working at height.
For a worker to be considered working at height depends on the type of work and the applicable local regulations. Below are some of the countries that defined what is considered working at height and required the corresponding safety precautions.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers must be provided proper fall protection if they are at “elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in longshoring operations.” Converted to metric, that’s at a height of 1.21 meters for general industry, 1.52 meters for shipyards, 1.82 meters when working in construction, and 2.43 meters high for workers in longshoring operations.
OSHA also stresses that fall protection is required for all employees, regardless of fall distance, if they are working directly over dangerous equipment and machinery.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), workers considered working at height if they are in any of these situations:
For any work activity that involves working at height, UK regulations require employers and those in charge of the activity to ensure the following:
In Australia, people who work at two meters (6.56 ft) or higher are required to have the proper fall protection equipment that fits the type of fall hazards present in the working area. If the work is at a height of less than two meters, proper risk management that involves conducting a risk assessment is required to identify and eliminate or control risks.
Conducting a risk assessment using a risk assessment template can help workers and safety officers determine the likelihood of occurrence and severity of the risks present when working at height and proactively formulate safety measures to protect themselves against the risks brought by working at heights.
With the variation in local regulations in mind, here are some examples of activities or jobs that involve working at height:
There are certain activities or situations, however, where work involves an amount of elevation but is not considered working at height like using the stairs in the workplace to go from one area to another or people working on their own homes and the activity is not intended for a business or a trade.
The aforementioned activities that are considered working at height are risky because of the incidents that may happen and result in injury or fatality if there is a lack of safety precautions. Here are some causes of accidents when working at height:
Working at Height
The first line of defense against risks of working at height is to determine what those risks are and come up with safety measures to protect the workers against such risks.
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Safeguard your workers by having them undergo working at heights training. Every year, workers can get seriously injured or die due to construction, manufacturing, and maintenance-related falls and hazards. Because of such high risks, employers should comply with OSHA and other safety regulations. Additionally, it should be necessary to provide workers with comprehensive and effective working at heights training and ensure that risk assessments and rescue plans are set.
We’ve gathered a list of working at heights training courses covering a wide range of topics such as ladder safety, scaffold safety, aerial lifts, harnessing, and OSHA fall protection standards. These courses are developed to help your team better understand fall hazards and the importance of using safety equipment and other fall protection safety techniques when working from heights. Similarly, their training from these courses can serve as a lifeline in times of emergency because they will be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to protect themselves.
Utilize a powerful tool that is tried and tested by industry leaders for helping make the workplace safer across industries. SafetyCulture can help managers, workers and safety officers proactively catch safety issues in the workplace and come up with safety measures to make working at height safer.
Best for teams and team leaders, SafetyCulture can help you:
Erick Brent Francisco
Erick Brent Francisco is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. As a content specialist, he is interested in learning and sharing how technology can improve work processes and workplace safety. His experience in logistics, banking and financial services, and retail helps enrich the quality of information in his articles.
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