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The Various Uses of Working at Height Equipment

Updated: Apr 19

2 construction workers using a scissor lift to carry out work

Working at height equipment has a wide variety of uses that fall into 3 main categories. Access, Fall Prevention & Fall Arrest. These 3 types of equipment all work towards the same common goal. Working safely at height.


 

In this Article:



 

Why do we use Working at Height Equipment?


Working at height remains one of the biggest risks in various industries, from construction and maintenance to telecommunications and window cleaning. The safety and efficiency of workers operating at elevation is always one of the biggest concerns. This is why specialized working at height (WAH) equipment is used to allow for improved access, fall prevention and fall arrest.


 

a man cutting down a tree using ladders for access

Access


Access to elevated work areas is a must have requirement in many industries, creating the demand for a range of equipment designed to safely elevate workers and their tools. The following sections detail the types of access equipment commonly used, their applications, and the advantages they offer.


Ladders

Ladders are among the most basic forms of access equipment, used for reaching heights in a quick and simple manner for short-duration tasks. They come in various forms, including extension, step, and folding ladders, each suitable for different scenarios.


Scaffolds

Scaffolds provide a stable work platform for workers to perform tasks at height over longer periods. Proper setup, stability, and regular inspection are crucial to ensure safety when using scaffolds.


Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWPs)

MEWPs offer flexible access to various heights and can be moved to different locations as needed. Types of MEWPs include scissor lifts, which provide vertical elevation, and boom lifts, which can extend in multiple directions.


Work Positioning Systems

These systems allow workers to be securely positioned while performing their tasks, often allowing hands-free operation. They are especially useful in scenarios where workers need to maintain a fixed position at height.


Rope Access Equipment

Rope access techniques are employed for tasks on high-rise buildings and structures, offering minimal setup and less disruption compared to scaffolding. This method requires specialized training and equipment.


Tower Scaffolds

Tower scaffolds are portable and can be quickly moved around a site, providing a secure platform for tasks like painting or maintenance work at various heights.


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE, including harnesses, helmets, and gloves, is crucial for worker safety. It offers protection against falls and other hazards encountered when working at height.


Podium Steps

Podium steps are a safer alternative to ladders for tasks at a moderate height, providing a stable platform with guardrails to prevent falls.


Table Summary of Access Equipment

Equipment Type

Description

Best Used For

Ladders

Basic, various forms for quick access.

Short-duration tasks requiring vertical access.

Scaffolds

Stable work platforms for extended periods.

Longer-duration tasks at height with heavy equipment.

MEWPs

Mobile platforms offering flexible elevation.

Flexible access at various heights, indoor and outdoor.

Work Positioning Systems

Systems that secure a worker in a position for hands-free operations.

Tasks requiring the worker to maintain a fixed position.

Rope Access Equipment

Minimal setup for high-rise building access.

High-altitude tasks on buildings or structures.

Tower Scaffolds

Portable, quickly moved for various tasks.

Mobile access for tasks like painting or maintenance work.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Essential safety gear for workers at height.

All working at height tasks to ensure worker safety.

Podium Steps

Stable platform with guardrails for moderate height tasks.

Safer alternative to ladders for moderate height tasks.

This comprehensive overview of access equipment underscores the importance of choosing the right tool for the job, ensuring worker safety and efficiency when operating at heights.


 

a safety net on steel framework to prevent falling

Fall Arrests


In the realm of working at height, the prevention of falls is paramount, but equally important is the capability to arrest falls when they do occur. Fall arrest systems are designed to stop a fall in progress, minimizing the risk of injury to the worker. These systems are essential in situations where workers are at risk of falling from height.


Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)

Personal Fall Arrest Systems are comprehensive setups that include a full-body harness, connectors, lanyards, and an anchor point. These systems are designed to catch a worker if they fall, distributing the force of the fall across the body to reduce injury. PFAS is crucial for tasks where there is a risk of falling more than six feet.


Safety Nets

Safety nets are used as a passive fall protection method. Positioned below the working area, these nets catch falling workers or falling debris, providing a secondary layer of protection. They are particularly useful on construction sites and in areas where other forms of fall protection are impractical.


 

scaffold fall protection fitted to the roof of a building

Fall Prevention


While fall arrest systems are vital, the primary goal in any work at height scenario is to prevent falls from happening in the first place. Fall prevention equipment is designed to remove the risk of a fall occurring, ensuring that workers remain safe and secure when working at elevated heights.


Equipment Type

Description

Use Case

Fall Restraint Systems

Systems that prevent the worker from reaching points where they could fall, typically involving a harness connected to a fixed line, restricting movement to safe areas only.

Ideal for tasks near unprotected edges, such as rooftop work or near open holes on construction sites.

Guardrails and Edge Protection Systems

Physical barriers that prevent workers from accidentally stepping off the edge of a working platform, often used on scaffolds, rooftops, and around open holes.

Used on scaffolds, rooftops, and around open holes, where there's a risk of falling from height.

Anchor Points

Secure locations where personal fall protection equipment (PFPE) can be attached, critical for both fall arrest and restraint systems, supporting the force of a fall.

Essential for tasks requiring fall arrest or restraint systems, including construction and maintenance work at height.

Portable Access Platforms

Offer a stable working surface at height and can include features like guardrails and stabilizers to prevent falls. Portable and can be moved to various locations.

Suitable for tasks such as equipment maintenance, warehouse operations, and anywhere temporary access at height is needed.

These fall prevention and arrest strategies are put in place to improve worker safety. Using the right equipment and protocols can drastically reduce the risks associated with working at height.


 

a man using rope access equipment wearing a tool lanyard

Tool Lanyards


Tool lanyards play a crucial role in the safety ecosystem of working at height, serving to secure tools to the worker or a solid structure, thereby preventing injury to people below and damage to the tools themselves. They are an essential accessory for anyone working at height, as they prevent the accidental dropping of tools and equipment, which could result in serious injuries or fatalities to workers or passers-by on lower levels.


Tool lanyards come in various designs to accommodate different tools and working conditions, including retractable models for ease of use and models with shock-absorbing features to reduce the force on the worker and the tool if dropped.


The selection of a tool lanyard should be based on the weight of the tool, the work environment, and the type of attachment points available on the worker's harness or work platform.


 

Regulations that Apply to Working at Height


The safe use of working at height (WAH) equipment is governed by stringent regulations and standards designed to protect workers from the risks associated with working at height. These regulations vary by country but generally include requirements for risk assessment, equipment inspection, worker training, and the use of appropriate safety equipment.


United Kingdom

There are five pieces of manual handling legislation in the UK which outlines the practices that must be followed when working at height.


  • Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

  • Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992

  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

  • Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998


European Union

In the European Union, the Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) set out the legal duties for employers and contractors, emphasizing the need to plan, manage, and supervise work at height activities. Similarly.


United States

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines and regulations for fall protection, including specific requirements for the use of personal fall arrest systems, scaffolding safety, and ladder use.


It is imperative for employers and workers to be familiar with and adhere to these regulations, ensuring that all WAH activities are planned with safety in mind, that workers are trained in the safe use of equipment, and that all equipment is regularly inspected and maintained.


 

Fall From Height Case Study


To illustrate the importance of adherence to safety practices and the use of appropriate working at height equipment, let's consider a case study. One notable example involves a construction worker, referred to as Mr. C, who suffered serious injuries after falling from a height due to inadequate safety measures.


In this case, Mr. C was working on a construction site without proper fall protection equipment. The absence of guardrails and personal fall arrest systems led to Mr. C falling several meters, resulting in multiple fractures and a lengthy recovery period. The incident highlighted several failures in workplace safety practices, including inadequate risk assessment, failure to provide appropriate safety equipment, and lack of training for workers on the dangers of working at height.


The legal proceedings that followed emphasized the employer's liability in failing to ensure a safe working environment and the importance of complying with WAH regulations. This case serves as a sobering reminder of the potential consequences of neglecting safety measures and the critical importance of investing in proper WAH equipment and training for all workers.


 

a man inspecting his working at height equipment

Maintenance of WAH Equipment


The maintenance of working at height (WAH) equipment is not just a regulatory requirement but a critical component of workplace safety. Regular and systematic inspection, maintenance, and, when necessary, the replacement of WAH equipment ensures the safety and reliability of these tools, thereby protecting workers from potential accidents and injuries.


Maintenance routines should include:


  • Visual Inspections: Before and after each use, equipment should be visually inspected for any signs of wear, damage, or malfunction. This includes checking for frays in ropes, cracks in harnesses, deformation in metal parts, and any other signs of deterioration.

  • Scheduled Detailed Inspections: Besides daily visual checks, detailed inspections by competent persons should be conducted at intervals recommended by the manufacturer or as required by local regulations. These inspections are more thorough and may involve testing or dismantling equipment to assess its condition.

  • Proper Storage: When not in use, WAH equipment should be stored properly to protect it from environmental damage, such as moisture, sunlight, or chemicals, which can degrade materials and compromise safety.

  • Documentation: Keeping records of inspections, maintenance, and repairs is crucial for tracking the condition of each piece of equipment and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.

Adherence to these maintenance protocols ensures that WAH equipment will perform as expected, reducing the risk of equipment failure and accidents at height.


 

Equipment Training


Training in the use of working at height equipment is an essential part of working safely. Without proper training these types of equipment can become a hazard as much as they are a safety feature.


If proper training is not undertaken by people using equipment such as MEWPs they can become a danger to themselves an others. The same applies to fall arrests such as harnesses which can fail in the event that some of the straps become damaged and go unnoticed.


In addition to this general working at height awareness training is recommended to all employees that undertake some kind of work at height. This is to ensure they are aware of the risks involved and are able to put the appropriate control measures in place in order to reduce these risks.


course card showing working at height training

 

Conclusion


Working at height presents inherent risks that necessitate stringent safety measures, including the proper selection, use, and maintenance of appropriate equipment. From accessing elevated work areas to preventing and arresting falls, the range of WAH equipment discussed underscores the industry's commitment to safety. However, the effectiveness of these tools is contingent upon adherence to regulations, regular maintenance, and ongoing worker training.


By highlighting the importance of these elements, alongside real-world implications of safety oversights, this article aims to foster a deeper understanding of the critical nature of WAH safety measures. Safety at height is not just about compliance; it's about protecting lives.


 

Additional Resources/Sources

Resource

Description

Overview of OSHA's guidelines and regulations on fall protection in the workplace.

The UK's Health and Safety Executive guidance on working at height.

American National Standards Institute/American Society of Safety Professionals standards for fall protection.

Detailed case study of a fall from height incident, highlighting legal and safety considerations.

 


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