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How to Create a Working at Height Rescue Plan

Updated: May 5

man on a harness carrying out a rescue from side of building

A working at height should include procedures for all scenarios and account for any hazards present. Training and equipment should be provided and regular drills carried out to allow for effective review and improvement of the rescue plan.


In this Article:


7 Steps to Creating a Working at Height Rescue Plan

Working at height is one of the leading causes of accidents and injury in the workplace. It is extremely important that employers comply with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulations regarding working at height to ensure all workers are safe and protected at all times at work.

Here are 8 steps to follow when creating a working at height rescue plan:

1. Assess the Risks

All potential hazards should be identified when assessing the risk, including factors such as equipment failures, environmental factors and any obstacles present that could obstruct rescue.

Rescue plans should take into consideration different scenarios or incidents that might occur which could effect the rescue. This could include having procedures in place to carry out a rescue if the person is injured or unconscious.

2. Prepare for all Scenarios

The rescue operation should have a clear plan that could be carried out in many different situations. Weather conditions, location of rescue and emergency response times are all factors that should be considered.

There should be equipment readily available to those carrying out the rescue, this equipment must be suitable for any scenario that has been considered during preparation.

3. Select the Right Equipment

Whether it's rope systems or an aerial lift, this equipment should be appropriate for the nature of the rescue and should also be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure its safe use during rescue.

4. Train the Rescue Team

The rescue team should be fully trained in working at height rescue operations to ensure they are competent. Regular retraining is also advised to ensure the team stays effective in their rescue operations. Advanced height safety and rescue training should be provided to all those taking part in rescue operations.

Those responsible for all aspects of a working at height rescue plan should have a clear understanding of the role they will play in the operation. Some of these responsibilities could include the following:

  1. Leading the rescue

  2. Alerting emergency services

  3. Operating the rescue equipment

  4. Setting up and checking the rope access equipment

5. Outline Medical Procedures

Medical procedures should be created to be followed in the event of an emergency. Someone may need emergency medical assistance if they have sustained a fall therefore hospitals and medical facilities should be located to determine the fastest route to professional medical help.

6. Practice Rescue Drills

Rescue drills are carried out at regular intervals and should mimic real like scenarios to help identify and issues with the plan. This also keeps those carrying out the rescue competent and prepared in an emergency.

7. Document, Review & Update

Records should be kept of every aspect of the working at height rescue plan including training, equipment checks and details of drills carried out. These records should be reviewed after each drill or if there is a change in any aspect of the plan that might affect the rescue.

A review should be carried out each time there has been an incident, this provides a good opportunity to improve rescue strategies and analyse what could be adjusted to create a more effective rescue plan


Who Needs a Working at Height Rescue Plan?


In workplaces, if employees are required to work at height at any time, a rescue plan must be designed, arranged and put into place.

The HSE’s Work at Height Regulations 2005 states that employers must have a rescue plan in place for emergencies and that the emergency services cannot be solely relied upon meaning the rescue plan must be sufficient enough to safely rescue the worker and prevent injury.

Industries that Require a Working at Height Rescue Plan

Working at height is common in various industries across the UK making rescue plans a regular part of many organisations .

Some industries that require working at height rescue plans include:

  • Construction

  • Utility

  • Maintenance

  • Industrial

  • Public Services

  • Telecommunication

  • Emergency Services

  • Events Industry

  • Offshore Operations

The rescue plan should not only include the type of equipment required in each working at height situation such as fall arrest harnesses but should also involve the right workers who have been fully trained for these situations and have the knowledge and skill to use the equipment and implement the rescue plan.

A rescue plan needs to focus on each individual set up for the different working at height tasks carried out including the location of the work, whether it is on a ladder, scaffolding or fragile surface, and the type of fall protection equipment that is used. The employers’ responsibility is to make sure all work at height tasks are properly planned, supervised and carried out by fully trained and competent workers.


man setting up a rescue from height sled

4 Methods of Rescue

For a working at height rescue plan, there are 4 different methods of rescue depending on the situation. These are provided as a hierarchy of rescue procedures and should be considered in this order to ensure the worker is safely rescued without injury.

  1. Lower the worker remotely

  2. Raising the worker remotely

  3. Self evacuation by descent

  4. Rescuing the person by descent

It is essential that during the raising and lowering rescue methods that the movement is controlled and steady to maintain the safety of the worker. The condition of the worker should also be continuously assessed during the movement.

The HSE also states that a rescue plan must:

  • Use the most suitable equipment

  • Check the anchor points for the rescue equipment

  • Ensure the safety of the chosen rescuers

  • Assess the rescue method for each appointed rescuer

  • Include how to move the fallen worker to safety

  • Include first aid and other medical requirements the worker may need

A rescue plan can encounter certain issues if there are any hazards or obstructions in the way during the rescue as it could interfere with the equipment used and increase the risk.

During a rescue it is vital that the anchor point is placed in a way that it does not come into contact with an edge. This positioning will ensure the anchor works correctly and the equipment is easier to use and isn't damaged during the rescue.


Risk Assessment


If working at height is required to complete any tasks in the workplace, a risk assessment must be regularly carried out to ensure the health and safety of all workers and prevent the risk of injury. The risk assessment will identify any hazards in the area and will put into place safety measures to ensure everyone is safe during the working at height task.

To carry out a comprehensive risk assessment you should include:

  • Identify all hazards such as fragile surfaces, unsecure scaffolding and incorrect equipment.

  • Determine who could be injured due to the hazards such as the workers above ground level and the workers in the nearby vicinity.

  • Evaluate the potential risks such as poorly maintained equipment or lack of training.

  • Record findings and note what precautions should be made.

  • Ensure that certain safety measures are implemented to effectively reduce or completely eliminate the risk and deal with the hazards.

A risk assessment must be carried out regularly to ensure that the equipment is regularly maintained and inspected. The assessment should also be reviewed if there is a fall from height and if there has been any additions to the workforce to ensure everyone receives the appropriate training and knows exactly what to do.


Suspension Trauma

If a worker does fall when working at height in the workplace but is caught by the fall protection equipment such as the fall arrest harness, they are still at risk from injury due to the condition called ‘suspension trauma’.

What is Suspension Trauma

Suspension trauma is caused by the harness restricting the blood circulation around the body as the worker is hanging in the air and so it is still a matter of emergency to rescue the worker quickly yet safely.

The working at height rescue plan should be designed so that workers can reach and secure the affected worker safely while also contacting the emergency services so the worker can receive the appropriate medical care as soon as they are back on the ground.

What Causes Syncope

Syncope is the loss of consciousness caused by the lack of blood flow reaching the brain. The rescue plan should also advise workers on how to safely retrieve the unconscious person if this occurs.

The speed of the rescue can have a significant effect on how serious the injury will be. If the rescue takes a long time, the suspension in the air may have both physical and psychological implications on the worker.


man welding whilst working at height wearing PPE

Proper PPE When Working at Height


Personal protective equipment (PPE) as stated by the HSE must be worn or used when working at height. This will protect the workers and effectively reduce the risk of accidents and injury.

Employers must provide their workers with the correct working at height equipment and ensure that the workers receive adequate training to know how to correctly wear the PPE to keep safe at work.

The equipment includes:

  • Fall arrest harness

  • Hard hats

  • Ropes

  • Ladders

  • Netting

The PPE must be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure it still works correctly and that there are no issues with it such as deterioration to keep all workers safe and prevent any falls from height at work.


Emergency Services


The HSE states that the emergency services should not be solely relied upon to rescue the workers. It is not their duty to rescue someone who has fallen from height and is suspended in a harness but to provide the medical attention once the worker is back on the ground.

All employers must have an efficient working at height rescue plan in place to ensure the worker can be rescued safely and timely while the emergency services have been called.

This means that the rescued worker can receive the required medical attention as soon as possible to reduce the potential of a serious injury. Any delays to the worker receiving medical care after a fall from height can cause the seriousness of the injury to increase.



a rescue team preparing for a working at height operation

Importance of Working in Teams


In workplaces where working at height is a regular occurrence, it is important for teams with a minimum of 2 people to work together to help improve the safety of each task. It is essential that all members of the team have received the appropriate training to ensure everyone is as safe as possible and to make sure they know what to do in the case of an emergency fall, how to follow the rescue plan and safely rescue the worker.

Working in a team is also extremely beneficial when following the rescue plan as it allows for the fallen worker to be rescued quicker and the team are able to share the physical load involved in a rescue. All teams that work at height must know how to use all of the required equipment and regularly inspect it and should practice rescue techniques to maintain the safety of workers at all times.


Rescue Kits

When working at height in a workplace, rescue kits must be readily available and regularly inspected to ensure the equipment works so that any workers that fall from height can be rescued quickly and safely.

The rescue kits will include:

  • Safety ropes

  • Winches

  • Anchor devices

  • Safety fall arrest harness

  • Lanyards

  • Ascenders and descenders

The items included in a rescue kit can differ depending on the working at height environment such as scaffolding, roofs and fragile surfaces to ensure workers are provided with the correct equipment to use in the case of a fall emergency.

Working at height in the workplace is a dangerous task and must only be performed by fully trained and competent employees that know how to use all the equipment correctly. All working at height tasks must be properly planned and supervised to ensure the safety of the workers and reduce the risk of injury.


a link to a working at height course




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