Safety and Working at Heights
A distinction is often made between fall heights greater than three metres and those less than three metres. This is mainly due to Regulation 21 of the Health and Safety in Employment Regulations 1995, usually interpreted as the three metre rule. What that rule says is that if you are working over three metres there must be a system to prevent you falling.
In fact more injuries occur from falls less than three metres high. The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 requires every employer to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees while at work and sections 8 -10 of the Act sets out a hierarchy of duties to be considered in sequence. This is the ‘Eliminate, Isolate, Minimise’ process and it doesn’t matter what height you are at.
Safety Controls for Working at Heights
The following principles should be adhered to irrespective of the fall height:
– Consider whether the job can be done without exposing people to the hazard (eliminate). This can be often best achieved by considering such elimination at the design, construction, planning and tendering stages. Elimination could involve having under-wing access panels for some tasks instead of only over-wing panels. It could also include built-in test equipment accessed from the ground which eliminates the need for a physical check.
– If elimination is not practicable then action should be taken to isolate people from the hazard. Safe working platforms or guardrail systems can be used to isolate people from the hazard.
– If elimination or isolation is not practicable then action should be taken to minimise the likelihood of harm resulting. This means considering the use of personal protective equipment, safety nets, airbags, fall arrest systems, etc. The hazard is still present; you are just lessening its impact. One thing to remember about personal protective equipment (not just for working at height, but also for noise and respiratory protection) is that it never fails safe, it always fails to danger. It really is the last line of defence. If working above three metres then minimisation by using safety nets or airbags is not an option, which is what the three metre rule is really about. If a person is exposed to a fall of greater than three metres a system has to be put in place to prevent a person falling. Airbags and nets only work after the fall has taken place rather than being a means of preventing the fall. So if you are working where a fall of three metres is possible, you should have a platform, a restraint, or be looking to eliminate the requirement to get that high at all.
Remember, safety at heights can also apply in the home!