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by the NFCC


Work at height

Hazard Knowledge

The need for personnel to work at height falls broadly into two categories:

  • Unintentional work at height, where personnel are attending an incident and have to deal with the potential to work at height; this could be, for example:
    • At above ground, below ground or open structures
    • In buildings, either complete, under construction or under demolition
    • At geophysical locations, such as steep ground, cliffs or excavations
  • Intentional work at height, where personnel are attending an incident with a predefined requirement to work at height; this could be, for example:
    • Working on an aerial appliance
    • Performing a rescue of a person trapped at height
    • Working near fragile surfaces

Work at height covers all work activities including training, where there is a possibility that a fall from a distance is liable to cause injury. The relevant regulations that cover work at height are:

The regulations state:

‘work at height’ means -

a) work in any place, including a place at or below ground level;

b) obtaining access to or egress from such place while at work, except by a staircase in a permanent workplace,

where, if measures required by these Regulations were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury

Personnel will be working at height if they:

  • Work above ground or floor level
  • Could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or
  • Could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground

Work at height does not include a slip or a trip on the level, as a fall from height has to involve a fall from one level to a lower level and does not include using a permanent staircase.

Working at height can be complex and requires:

  • Risk assessment
  • Planning, including arrangements for emergency evacuation or rescue of responders
  • Deployment of competent personnel
  • The use of appropriate equipment
  • Adequate supervision

Impact of weather

Adverse weather conditions such as lightning, strong wind, rain or extreme temperatures can impact the safety of personnel and potentially hinder working at height activity. Wind speeds are often greater at height than on the ground.

The regulations stipulate that work at height should only be carried out when the weather conditions do not jeopardise the health or safety of those involved in the work. It also provides an exemption from this requirement for responders, to enable them to carry out emergency actions. When the emergency actions have ended, the regulations will apply as normal.

For further information refer to:

Impact on personnel

Personnel may show signs of stress, anxiety, vertigo or dizziness while working at height. This could happen suddenly, for example due to personnel not knowing they have an inner ear problem or as a side effect of medication.

Personnel may become entangled within the equipment as a result of a piece of PPE such as a glove being trapped within an industrial descender or they slip uncontrollably resulting in the rope becoming wrapped around their body which can lead to crushing, asphyxiation and impact related injuries.

Incorrect operation or use of work at height equipment

Prior to personnel operating any work at height equipment they should receive adequate training on appropriate operating procedures, basic troubleshooting, and best practices for safe equipment use relevant to the work at height system they will be required to set up. However, work at height systems could be incorrectly set up due to lapse in familiarity and regular use, which can result in failure of the systems intended purpose.

If work at height equipment is used for unintended purposes, such as securing loads, it may be compromised or lead to its failure.

Limited capabilities

Some incidents that involve risks associated with falling from height may require actions that are beyond the capabilities of initial responders. In these circumstances, incident commanders should be aware of the restrictions that available equipment and training place on their ability to take offensive action.