Safety Services


Work at Height

Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of major injury and fatalities in the workplace. This webpage will provide guidance on how to control the risks associated with work at height.

On this page 

What is work at height?

Work at height means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. You are working at height if you:

  • Work above ground/floor level (e.g. on a scaffold tower)
  • Could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface (e.g. working on a roof)
  • Could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground (e.g. working near an excavation)

How do you comply with the regulations?

Those in control of any work at height activity must ensure the work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This includes using the right type of equipment for working at height.

Take a sensible, pragmatic approach when considering precautions for work at height. Factors to weigh up include the height of the task; the duration and frequency; and the condition of the surface being worked on. There will also be certain low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary.

Work at height - hierarchy of control

Before working at height you must conduct a risk assessment working through the work at height hierarchy of control:

1 - Avoid work at height

Avoid work at height wherever possible. 

2 - Collectively prevent falls

Use an existing place of work that is already safe (e.g. a flat, stable roof with fixed edge protection) or the right type of equipment (e.g. tower scaffolds, MEWPs).

3 - Personally prevent falls

Use the right type of equipment, such as a fall restraint system.

4 - Collectively minimise the distance and consequence of a fall

Use the right type of equipment, such as safety nets and soft landing systems.

5 - Personally minimise the distance and consequence of a fall

Use the right type of equipment, such as a fall arrest system.

Principles when working at height

Below are some of the key principles for safe working at height that should be followed and incorporated in the risk assessment. Some of these principles will be explained in further detail later on in the webpage.

  • Carry out as much work as possible from the ground.
  • Ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height.
  • Ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly.
  • Ensure workers don’t overload the equipment or overreach when working at height.
  • Ensure fragile surfaces are considered and suitable precautions are taken when working on or near fragile surfaces.
  • Provide protection from falling objects.
  • Ensure emergency evacuation and rescue procedures are considered.

Ensuring workers are competent to carry out the work is an important factor when planning work at height. This means workers having the sufficient skills, knowledge, experience to do the work. For those being trained, they must work under the supervision of somebody competent to do the task.

Sufficient skills and knowledge for working at height is often learnt on the job and not in the classroom. When a more technical level of competence is required (e.g. assembling, dismantling, moving and inspecting mobile access towers), there are existing training and certification schemes drawn up by trade associations and industry.

These include:

  • PASMA – for use of mobile access towers
  • IPAF – for use of mobile elevated working platforms
  • CITB – for work at height in construction and maintenance
  • Ladder Association - for safe use of ladders
  • NASC – for use of access and scaffolding

Having the necessary fitness for working at height includes any underlying health conditions or temporary impairments which may affect the safety of the worker and others.

Individuals should complete a 'Safety Critical Health Assessment Form'.to determine their fitness for work at height.


When selecting equipment for work at height, you must consider:

  • The most suitable equipment appropriate for the work in order of the hierarchy of control (i.e. using a mobile tower scaffold with edge protection instead of a ladder, if it is suitable and practicable to do so).
  • The working conditions (e.g. weather, space constraints for using certain equipment, surfaces etc.).
  • The nature, frequency and duration of the work.
  • The risks to the safety of everyone where the work equipment will be used.
  • The competency and training required for assembling, using and inspecting the equipment.
  • The safe working load of the equipment, which must be marked.
Maintenance and user checks

To ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job it is important that formal inspections are carried out by competent persons and visual pre-use checks carried out by the user (these may be recorded but are not required to be).

Types of equipment that require inspection include:

  • Guard rails, toe-boards, barriers or similar collective means of protection
  • Working platforms that are fixed (e.g. scaffolding)
  • Mobile platforms (e.g. MEWP or scaffold tower)
  • Ladders

The frequency of a pre-use check should be undertaken each working day the equipment is used, but the frequency of a formal inspection by a competent person is determined by:

  • The environment (e.g. conditions that may cause it to deteriorate, and result in a dangerous situation)
  • Frequency of use
  • Adverse weather (e.g. high winds, heavy precipitation)
  • Accidental damage
  • If it is suspected that the safety of the equipment is jeopardised

A common frequency for formal inspection of work equipment is every 7 days.

Adverse weather

The weather may significantly affect work at height activities and will, therefore, need to be incorporated into the risk assessment and monitored before work at height activities take place.

Some of the weather conditions to consider are:

  • High winds (winds of 17mph or above may prompt work at height activities to stop depending on the nature of the work).
  • Heavy precipitation which may make surfaces slippery or cause parts to fail or seize.
  • Thunder and lighting (this is pertinent if those working at height are the highest object in the vicinity).
Fragile surfaces

Falls through fragile roofs and roof lights are one of the biggest causes of work at height-related injuries and fatalities. This is an important factor to consider when planning maintenance and cleaning work on roofs.

At UCL it is unlikely any of the buildings will have a roof surface classified as fragile, however roof lights that are potentially fragile may be found throughout the Estate. It is important these are identified and adequate controls are put in place to prevent contact with them (e.g. permanent edge protection around the light) and ensure they are clearly identifiable (warning signs/stickers). If any maintenance or cleaning activities must take place around these it is important to have suitable controls in place to prevent persons or equipment falling onto the roof lights.

Storage and falling objects

When working at height it is imperative to consider the storage of materials and equipment and the prevention of falling objects.

For the safe storage of materials and equipment they should be sited in such a way that they won’t cause injury if they are disturbed or collapse (e.g. away from the perimeter) and are protected from weather effects (e.g. secured weatherproof covers).

It is important to stop materials or objects from falling or if it is not reasonably practicable to prevent objects falling, take suitable and sufficient measures to ensure no one can be injured (e.g. use exclusion zones under the working area or use mesh or nets to catch any dropped objects).

Emergency and rescue plans

Suitable and sufficient rescue plans will be required depending on the type of work at height activity. These plans must be in place before the work at height activity commences and must be approved by a competent person.

Considerations for a rescue plan:

  • Identify the type of work that would require a rescue plan (e.g. using a fall arrest system or a worker who is unreachable for a period of time should they suffer harm or ill health).
  • They must not put others at risk attempting rescue.
  • They should avoid manual handling wherever possible.
  • They should be swift, especially if someone is suspended in a harness, then it should not exceed 15 minutes to avoid suspension trauma.
  • They should specify first-aid arrangements as there is a danger of causing increased harm should a harness user not be treated properly in the event of a fall.
  • They should determine whether drills are required for testing the effectiveness of the rescue plan and to act as training for the workers.

Last updated: Tuesday, June 23, 2020