Working at height is the single most dangerous activity as borne out by the fact that it is the biggest cause of fatalities and serious injuries in the workplace. It can be made safe by following basic rules and guidelines, but if workers are inadequately trained or are given incorrect equipment, then accidents can and do happen. Good training should be the most important part of the working practice of anywhere where working at a height goes on, whether on scaffolding towers or powered access equipment. Boss training has a range of training courses, all affiliated to the appropriate governing bodies, to ensure that staff are safe working at height, but there are a few basic principles which should always be followed.

#1 – Do as much as you can with both feet on the ground

This may seem very obvious, but in fact many people tend to use towers and lifting equipment when they could easily work from ground level. Trimming trees and hedges, painting and other simple tasks can often be done from the ground by using extension poles and handles. This is by far the simpler option, as it means that the person doing the task can walk around freely, so the job is often done quicker as well as more safely from the ground.

#2 – Check under your feet

If you are going to walk on a surface such as a flat roof or ledge, check that it is safe before stepping off a scaffold tower or powered access. If you are at all unsure, don’t step on it but if you have to go across it for essential maintenance, wear a harness and use a supporting wire between two fixed points. Duckboards may be the answer but a full risk assessment is essential.

#3 – Check the ladders, towers and powered access equipment is stable

In this case, the floor is the hazard, and not the height. If the ground is at all uneven or unstable, it can be dangerous to erect and then use anything which you intend to use to get you off the ground. Many accidents are caused by this kind of malfunction and it can also injure those on the ground, so it is really important to check this point – if planks or wedges are used, these must be adequate and well positioned.

#4 – Think of those on the ground

All tools being used above ground should be attached to the user, but this can’t be done in the case of slates or in tree work. If it isn’t possible to secure items which are loose overhead, an area around the workspace must be roped or coned off and there must be adequate signage to warn passersby.

#5 – Don’t do unnecessary climbing

It is no use constructing a scaffold tower if the access to it means having to climb on unsafe ladders or other access methods. Any platform, whether moving or static, should be easily accessible from safe access points.

#6 – Keep checking equipment – don’t leave things to chance

When erecting or using powered equipment for working at height, a check should be made when the job begins, but it is important not to forget that the checks need to be made regularly – preferably daily. This way any problem can be quickly identified and rectified. This is particularly important if a job is a long one. Platforms left in situ for too long can quickly become dangerous because of loosened bolts or ground becoming compacted.

#7 – Try to avoid using ladders

Ladders should be used to access work only. It is only rarely that a ladder is suitable for working at height and if it is shown on risk assessment to be suitable, it should be anchored effectively. No ladder work should take more than 30 minutes at the most – it is tiring and statistics show that most ladder accidents happen after about half an hour’s use.

#8 – Ladders again; don’t use them as balancing bars!

Ladders should never be used where you have to lean over. They are meant to be used in cases where the body remains in line with the ladder, not to one side. Ladders also have a very high centre of gravity – you! Don’t make this even worse by carrying heavy loads up them. Not only does it change the balance, but a load could injure you or someone below in the event of a fall.

#9 – Only let trained people work at height

Sometimes this can be annoying and can be perceived as lengthening the time a job will take but it simply isn’t worth the risk. If someone isn’t trained, they don’t work up high; it is as simple as that. For example someone working on a mobile tower should ideally have been on an accredited PASMA training course and someone using a powered access machine been on an IPAF training.

#10 – Carry out a full risk assessment, involving the whole team

If you are asked to work at a height, ask to see the risk assessment and add to it if anything has been missed out. All risk assessments should be completed by everyone who works on the job because that way things don’t get missed. It is too easy to be wise after the event.