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Work at height: a checklist for managers

Work at height is an everyday occurrence. But if it is not planned and managed properly, experience shows that even simple activity can kill or cause life changing injury. 

Although there are many types of work from height, ranging from using mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs) to step ladders, guidance from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) refers to a basic ‘hierarchy’ of safety measures, applicable in all cases. 

HSE’s hierarchy begins with consideration of how work at height can be avoided, and it ends with using personal equipment that is designed to prevent fall injury. Below, we give examples of what HSE’s hierarchy can mean in building engineering services. We also highlight other essential considerations that will enable managers to develop safe systems of work, help onsite supervisors and crucially, help to protect operatives from falls at work.   

Managers (or anyone managing work at height) should follow this general hierarchy of measures wherever possible…

Examples relevant to various types of building engineering services may include…

1. Avoid working at height

Fully assess the task to be undertaken – is it reasonably practicable carry the work out another way other than at height

  • Using extendable tools from ground level
  • Installing cables at ground level
  • Lowering a mast to ground level
  • Assemble components at ground level (e.g. offsite) and lift into place
  • Using emerging technologies (e.g. drones, aerial surveys)

2. Adopt a practical approach to planning work at height

Assess the risks associated with the activity, the working environment and the work style.

Consider any situations that may increase the risk of harm

Ensure any changes to work activity are re-assessed, and any changes to the risk of harm are dealt with before work continues.

  • Height of work activity
  • Duration of work
  • Frequency of work
  • Weather conditions
  • Indoor working conditions
  • Work equipment and materials required
  • Any evacuation and rescue procedures

3. Prevent falls from occurring

Identify and utilise an existing safe place of work.

  • Robust working platform/area
  • Defined access points
  • Fixed guard rails e.g. around plant, machinery, excavations/holes

4. Prevent falls through providing collective protection

Select appropriate control measures

  • MEWPs
  • Scaffolding
  • Temporary edge protection
  • Mobile towers

5. Prevent falls through providing personal protection

Use a work restraint/travel restriction system that prevents a worker getting into a fall position.


  • Fixed lanyards and harnesses
  • Man safe systems e.g. line systems

6. Minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall using collective protection

Select equipment appropriate to the task and environment.


  • Safety netting
  • Airbags or soft landing systems

7. Minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall using personal protection (the last resort)

Select appropriate equipment to the task and environment.

  • Personal fall arrest system with secure anchor points



Other essential  considerations include…

Skills, knowledge and experience – ensure that

  • Work at height is planned and supervised by people who have sufficient skills, knowledge and experience to do the job safely
  • Everyone engaged with work at height understands the task-relevant safe system of work (SSoW) and any relevant parts of a Construction Phase Plan (CPP) for construction work
  • Anyone under training works only under effective and competent supervision, in accordance with the SSoW

Equipment for working at height – ensure that

  • All access equipment to be assembled or installed, used and maintained according to manufacturer’s instructions and current standards
  • Where the effectiveness of the equipment depends on how it has been assembled or installed it should be inspected by a competent person before work commences
  • Any access or safety equipment should be inspected regularly and any damaged equipment (e.g. due to physical wear) – or any equipment with unauthorised modifications - must be withdrawn, replaced or repaired, as necessary to ensure safety
  • Record all equipment inspections at least to statutory guidelines

All working platforms from where a person could fall must be inspected:

  • At least every seven days
  • After assembly or adaptation in any position
  • After any event likely to affect its strength or stability
  • Following the actual deployment of safety equipment (e.g. a fall into a safety net or air bag system)

Other considerations

  • Ensure that working surfaces at height are not overloaded with materials or equipment, and that they are kept clear (good housekeeping)
  • Ensure workers can get safely to and from where they will work at height
  • Ensure all surfaces for placing or attaching access equipment are stable and strong enough for use
  • Provide sufficient protection from falling objects (e.g. materials and work equipment) for anyone who may be below
  • Ensure that sufficient time has been allocated so that the task can be completed safely
  • Do not put or require anyone to work who is unfit to work at height.