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Working at Height - Hierarchy Of Control

Updated: May 5

man working at height with harness

Working at height is one of the major causes of injury and fatality in the workplace. This is why the hierarchy of control was created to give a checklist to follow at work in order to ensure safety standards have been met.


In this Article:


What is Considered Working at Height?


As stated by the Health and Safety Executive, working at height means the “work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”. This can be from a ladder, scaffolding, roofs and many more places common with construction work that are at height.

Employers have the responsibility to take care of their employees by implementing practical measures which keeps the workers safe when working at height. These jobs at height must be carried out by competent employees who have received the appropriate training and have the skills and knowledge to correctly perform the tasks.

The tasks must also be supervised and properly planned and the workers must be provided with the right equipment to successfully and safely complete the tasks. Working at height is anywhere above floor level or the possibility of falling through an opening or from an edge.



Hierarchy of Control when Working at Height


The hierarchy of control is a step by step guide that should be used in workplaces as part of the risk assessment to help reduce the risks and hazards as well as manage the tasks effectively. It is presented in the shape of an inverted pyramid as a visual guide to protect employees when working at height.

The hierarchy of control is a checklist that employers should work through one at a time to minimise the risks provided by working at height. There are 8 main steps to follow in the hierarchy of control:

  1. Avoid working at height Sometimes it is possible to avoid working at height for certain jobs, if the object can be lowered to the ground or if equipment can be used to carry out the work.

  2. Provide training and supervision for workers at height All employees that work at height must receive appropriate training and know how to use the equipment and be supervised at all times to ensure they are always safe.

  3. Use equipment that prevents falls If working at height is unavoidable, certain equipment such as harnesses, nets and barriers should be used to prevent falls and injuries.

  4. Check suitability of equipment Assess if the correct equipment has been chosen for the specific job. Check the risks, strength and stability of the equipment.

  5. Regularly check equipment and perform maintenance Equipment must be regularly checked to ensure it is has been installed correctly and is safe for use. It should also be decided who is going to be responsible for performing maintenance.

  6. Provide PPE and protection from falling objects PPE such as harnesses and hard hats should always be worn when working at height to protect both the worker above ground from serious falls and the workers on the ground.

  7. Ensure the working environment is safe The working environment should always be clear of hazards and risks such as power lines and the weather should also be taken into consideration.

  8. Have an emergency rescue plan in place This is the last resort as all previous steps should prevent this step from being needed but in the case it does, there must be an emergency plan ready. This should be for workers who have fallen but are still above ground level such as stuck in the harness and the aim is to get them down safely.



hard hats and high vis vests hung on wall

Workplace Safety Hierarchy of Control

The HSE also provides 5 main ‘hierarchy of control’ steps specific to PPE which help to protect employees against risks in the working environment. These 5 steps include:


1. Elimination


Level one on the pyramid, elimination is defined as physically removing the hazard, if possible. This means workers should first assess if it is preventable to work from height and instead work on the ground as much as possible.

Certain steps taken to achieve the elimination of working at height could include:

  • Lower the object that requires repairs to the ground

  • Use extendable equipment and tools

  • Try to avoid standing on fragile surfaces

Elimination is the first step because if it is completed successfully it will provide workers with zero risk as the hazard has been removed.


2. Substitution


Level two, substitution means to replace the hazard if possible. If the working at height cannot be eliminated, the next step is to see if a suitable substitution is possible. The task should be replaced with a less hazardous option to reduce the risks.

For example, workers such as window cleaners or roofers who use ladders may try an elevating platform or scaffolding with harnesses. It must be assessed that the proposed substitution is actually safer than the previous one before it is implemented.


3. Engineering Controls


Level three, engineering controls means to isolate people from the hazard. This can be done by installing extra safety equipment and protection to reduce the risks and avoid falls from height, for example:

  • Install safety barriers and guard rails on the edge to prevent falls

  • Install safety equipment such as nets

  • Install platforms over fragile surfaces

The engineering controls are what can be physically changed in a working environment to make the area safer. This should control the hazard to ensure workers feel safer when working from height.


4. Administrative Controls


Level four, administrative controls means change the way people work. Employers should implement additional practices to protect their workers from the working at height hazards. This can include:

  • Limiting time spent on a task at one time

  • Making it a requirement for employees to receive working at height training

  • Ensuring equipment is regularly maintained and inspected

  • Adding signs to warn people about the hazard


5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)


The last level on the pyramid, PPE means protect the worker with equipment. Once all of the other steps have been tried, employees should then resort to wearing PPE to keep them safe and protected while working at height. This equipment can include hard hats and fall arrest harnesses.

The equipment must be regularly maintained to ensure it still works correctly to keep workers safe and prevent falls from height in the workplace. PPE should only be used if all other steps fail to effectively eliminate the hazards present.


Legislation and Guidance


The HSE provides The Work at Height Regulations 2005 which aims to prevent injury or death caused by falling from height at work. If your workplace requires employees to regularly work at height, this regulation is applicable to you.

The legislation states that employers must ensure that the work at height is properly supervised, planned and performed by fully trained and competent workers. It also states that the right equipment must always be used which is regularly inspected and maintained to ensure employees are safe at all times.

Risk assessments must be carried out prior to any working from height tasks to prevent falls and injuries and employers can use the hierarchy of controls to effectively assess the task.



Who Created the Hierarchy of Control?


The hierarchy of control was first introduced by the National Safety Council in the United States in the 1950s to protect workers from the hazards in the workplace to promote health and safety.

The UK’s HSE then implemented the hierarchy of control into the Work at Height Regulations 2005 to provide guidance on the steps to be taken to help reduce and prevent risks when working at height. If any tasks need to be completed at height, the hierarchy of control should be used as a checklist to ensure the workers are completely safe.


Training for Work at Height


Working at height training is required for all employees who complete regular tasks above ground level. During the training you will be taught how to stay safe at height, the potential risks and hazards and provides employees with all the necessary knowledge and skills to prevent injuries by falling from height.

Training courses will teach workers all the necessary information including:

  • Understand the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and how to implement them

  • Understand the relevant risks and hazards that can occur

  • How to reduce and prevent the risks using the hierarchy of control

  • How to correctly use the safety equipment

  • Understand the different safety measures which can be implemented

The training courses are a legal requirement for employers to ensure their employees are fully trained and competent to safely work at height to prevent any falls or injuries. Employers must also provide the required equipment and ensure it is regularly maintained and inspected before use to keep everyone safe at work.

Working at height is dangerous and so all steps must be followed at all times and risk assessments performed to protect the workers.

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