There’s no doubt that working at height can be dangerous if you do not take the necessary precautions. Falls from height are one of the most common injuries while at work and so you need to take special care if you or your staff need to work at height. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about this kind of work.

What counts as ‘working at height’?

‘Working at height’ is any situation in which a person is required to carry out work in a location where they have the potential to fall and be injured. This includes any work above the ground or at any edge or fragile surface. Sometimes the phrase ‘working at height’ can be a little misleading. For example if you are working over an opening or hole that drops below ground level, this is considered to be working at height too.

What are the regulations for working at height?

In the UK, the Work at Height Regulations 2005 govern this sort of work. These regulations state that employers, building owners or managers have a duty of care to ensure that employees stay as safe as possible at all times. All work at height must be organised and properly planned, the workers involved must be competent, risks must be assessed and managed, and the equipment used should be fully inspected and correctly maintained.

When should a ladder be used?

Understanding when a ladder is the right tool generally depends entirely on the situation. According to health and safety laws, you should use a ladder if a risk assessment shows that using alternative equipment is not necessary because there is a low level of risk involved. It is generally considered that equipment such as scaffolding or platforms with guardrails are safer than using ladders, but this may not be necessary if risk is not high and the duration of time on the ladder is short.

Ladders should only be used in situations where it is possible to do so safely. This means that they have to be stable and secure when they are used.

How can you decide if someone is competent to work at height?

One of the rules regarding working at height is that any staff employed should be ‘competent’ to do so. Assessing whether someone is competent to work at height you should make sure that someone has the skills, experience and knowledge of how to perform the work. For low risk tasks that only last a short duration, such as using a ladder, risk assessments should ensure that workers receive instructions for how to use it properly.

For more complicated work such as assembling scaffolding or working on a scaffold tower, it is important that the worker has been properly trained and is working under the direction of a competent supervisor.

Can you use a ladder on top of a scaffold tower?

If scaffolding is not high enough to complete certain aspects of the work you are undertaking, it may be tempting to use a ladder. However, doing so would break health and safety laws, and would render useless the guard rails that are in place to protect workers from falls. You should never use a ladder on top of a scaffold tower – if the scaffolding is not high enough for the work, alternative scaffolding should be put in place.

Who is qualified to put up scaffolding?

To erect scaffolding, the workers must be under the supervision of someone competent. If it is a complicated structure it may be necessary that the supervisor or worker have received full training into how to erect it safely.

Can scaffold towers be built higher than what is suggested in the instructions?

It is never advisable to build scaffolding higher than the height suggested in the instructions. You should always stick to exactly what is shown in the assembly guide. If a tower needs to be built higher it needs to be assessed by a scaffolding expert before any changes can be made. It may even be necessary to purchase or rent a higher scaffold so that work can be carried out in a safe environment.

Is it safe to use second hand scaffold towers?

Second hand scaffold towers are completely safe to use, however, you must buy or hire through an experienced and quality scaffold supplier. Ensure that you are getting your second hand scaffolding through a company that has performed a full and thorough inspection to make sure that it is in good condition to be used.