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Employees in a huge number of industries, including construction, retail, and the food and drink industry work at height. However, falls from height account for a large number of injuries and fatalities every year in the UK.
- Falls from height account for 20% of fatal accidents in the workplace.
- Within the construction industry, 47% of all workplace accidents involved a fall from a height.
- Falls from a height is the main cause of fatal accidents and serious injuries in the workplace.
What is working at height?
Working at height means working in any place where, if the correct precautions are not in place, an individual could fall from a distance and acquire a personal injury. Working at height does not always mean you are working above ground but can also refer to falls from one level to a lower level.
Some situations where you are classed as working at height include:
- You are working above ground level.
- There is a possibility you could fall from an edge.
- There is a possibility you could fall through an opening or a fragile surface.
- You could fall from ground level into an opening in the floor or a hole in the ground.
- You are working on a ladder, scaffolding, a ledge above ground, or a roof.
- Your job role involves working in a cellar or retrieving items from a cellar.
- You are standing on a step, ledge, or ladder to stack shelves or retrieve items from shelves, for example in supermarkets, warehouses, and restaurants.
- You are cleaning windows, walls, or ceilings from an elevated level.
- Your job involves working from a vehicle above ground level, for example if you are loading or unloading deliveries.
Working at height does not include slips, trips or falls on the same level or walking up or down a permanent staircase.
Many people are aware of the injuries and potential fatalities that can occur when you are working from height. However, many people associate falls from height as being from high distances, such as roofs or scaffolding. In actual fact, two-thirds of all working at height injuries occur from a low fall of less than 2 metres.
What should employers and employees do when working at height?
All employers are responsible for the health and safety of any employees who are working at height. They must ensure they follow all working at height regulations and legal guidelines, perform risk assessments, and consider the health and safety of the employees working at height.
- Avoid tasks and operations that involve working at a dangerous height, where possible.
- Minimise the distance and consequences of a fall to the lowest possible level.
- Use appropriate equipment that can help prevent falls from height.
- Ensure that all employees have undergone any necessary training to work at height.
- Ensure all work at height is properly planned and organised.
- Ensure all work at height is supervised at all times.
- Ensure that any risks from fragile surfaces have been suitably controlled.
- Consider weather conditions before working at height tasks begin.
- Ensure all equipment is checked and inspected.
- Check that the area is safe.
- Take any necessary precautions and remove or minimise hazards and risks.
When working at height, it is important that employees also take responsibility for their own health and safety.
When working at height, an employee should:
- Comply with all working at height regulations.
- Ensure they are not under the influence of alcohol, drugs or any intoxicant that could cause them to endanger themselves or others.
- Ensure they correctly use any working at height equipment, resources and tools that they have been given access to.
- Wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at all times.
- Report any hazards, risks or dangers that they become aware of.
- Behave in a responsible manner at all times.
- Attend any training that is offered to them by their employer.
What is a working at height rescue plan?
A working at height rescue plan is a pre-planned procedure that is designed to be used in the event of a fall from height. Any company, business or workplace where employees work from height should have a rescue plan in place.
When workers are working at height, fall arrest systems should be used to protect them in the event of a fall. A fall arrest system is a body holding device that is connected to a reliable anchor. If the worker falls, the system should arrest and restrict, which should stop the fall before the worker hits the ground or another surface. The worker will then be suspended above the ground in a harness.
In activities, tasks and operations that require a fall arrest system, a working at height rescue plan is required by law. The plan enables the worker to be rescued as quickly as possible.
The plan is designed to safely retrieve any individual who has fallen from a height and is suspended in a harness. It is designed to prevent serious injury and provides information regarding the type of equipment that can be used in the retrieval process and where this equipment is located.
A working at height rescue plan must be accurately planned, supervised and executed by a person, or persons, who are suitable for the job.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that all working at height rescue plans must address:
- The safety of all individuals carrying out the rescue.
- Information about the anchor points for the safety equipment.
- The suitability of any equipment.
- How the individual will be attached to the rescue equipment.
- How the individual will be moved using the rescue equipment.
- Information about any medical needs or other needs of the individuals involved in the rescue.
Other considerations should include:
- Are there any weather or temperature factors that could affect the safety of the worker?
- Are there any safety risks for the individuals carrying out the rescue?
- Is the equipment safe?
Once all of these factors have been considered, your working at height rescue plan is ready to be implemented.
The rescue plan must be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. It is important to ensure that any equipment or resources that are required as part of the plan are maintained and replenished frequently. The rescue equipment must be available on-site and all employees must receive adequate training on how to correctly use the equipment.
When dealing with a fall from height that requires the retrieval or rescue of the worker, there is a hierarchy of rescue procedures:
1. Lowering the worker remotely.
2. Raising the worker remotely.
3. Self-evacuation by descending.
4. Rescuing another person by descending.
A retrieval or rescue can experience complications if there are any obstructions, edges or other hazards involved. This is because they can increase friction, increase the risk of the anchor line being cut or worn, or could interfere with the rescue equipment.
When attempting a rescue, it is essential that the anchor should be positioned in a way that makes the equipment easier to operate safely.
The anchor point should be arranged in a way that means it does not come into contact with an edge, where possible. If this is not possible, then the equipment should be protected from the edge to reduce the likelihood of damage occurring.
Maintaining a steady and controlled rate of movement during the raising or lowering part of a rescue plan is essential.
When carrying out a working at height rescue plan, you must:
- Fully assess the situation before beginning the rescue.
- Request the relevant medical or emergency assistance, for example by dialling 999.
- Identify the correct position to carry out the rescue.
- Identify the safest anchorage points.
- Identify a point of safety for the worker to be moved to, following retrieval.
- Ensure that everyone involved is aware of the rescue procedure and their own role.
- Ensure anyone involved in the rescue is trained, and able to carry out their role.
- Ensure the rescue is carried out in a steady and controlled manner.
- Ensure effective communication is maintained at all times.
- Carefully monitor the condition of the worker and administer first aid where necessary.
- Following the rescue, conduct a review of the situation, process and outcomes to help identify any areas for improvement or learning.
When do you need a working at height rescue plan?
In line with the Work at Height Regulations (2005), those in control or charge of any working at height activities and operations must have an up-to-date, detailed and systematic working at height rescue plan in place that can be used in cases of emergencies.
It is not the duty of emergency services to rescue a worker who has fallen from a height, although they may be contacted in order to offer medical assistance to the individual who has fallen.
If any employee is working at a height that could result in injury if fallen from, then it is a legal requirement that a working at height rescue plan is in place.
Some examples include:
- Working on a ladder.
- Working on scaffolding.
- Working on a flat roof.
- Working on a fragile surface that a worker could fall through.
Why is a working at height rescue plan important?
A working at height rescue plan ensures that all health and safety practices and procedures are adhered to. It can help to prevent accidents, injuries and even death.
A rescue plan can help you safely rescue someone who has fallen from a height and is suspended in a harness. As the plan provides information about the location of the equipment needed to rescue the worker, and how to use that equipment, it allows prompt action to rescue the worker as quickly as possible.
The speed of rescue and the promptness with which the individual who has fallen from height is rescued can have a significant impact on the seriousness of any injury they have sustained. Any delays in retrieval from the suspension can have both physiological and psychological consequences for the worker involved.
The working from height rescue plan allows you to safely retrieve the worker, whilst simultaneously contacting the emergency services. This means that the worker can begin receiving medical treatment as quickly as possible. Without a rescue plan, the worker is likely to experience delays in receiving medical treatment. Any delays can cause a serious injury to worsen or become fatal.
Furthermore, if an evacuation of the area is required, for example in the event of a fire, a fast rescue is essential to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Any individual who falls from a height will be suspended by their fall arrest system. However, prolonged suspension can be dangerous and have serious implications for the worker who has fallen. Individuals involved in the rescue need to be aware of syncope. Syncope is a sudden loss of consciousness caused by a sudden drop in the blood supply to the brain.
Symptoms of syncope include:
- Feelings of tingling or numbness.
- Feeling faint.
A rescue plan allows you to rescue the worker as quickly as possible. If the worker is already experiencing symptoms of syncope or is already unconscious, the rescue plan will advise you on how to safely support and retrieve a worker who is unconscious and how to administer first aid.
What is required in a working at height rescue plan?
When creating a working at height rescue plan, there are several requirements you must consider.
A risk assessment must be performed when working at height takes place. The risk assessment should look at all potential hazards and risks and determine how these can be eliminated or reduced to the lowest possible level.
A risk assessment for working at height should:
- Identify any potential hazards.
- Identify who could be harmed as a result of these hazards.
- Evaluate any potential risks.
- State any precautions that should be taken.
- Record any findings.
- Ensure that any actions or procedures are implemented.
A working at height risk assessment should be reviewed periodically, or if there are any changes to the worksite or employees that could affect the effectiveness of the risk assessment. They should also be reviewed following a fall from height.
The rescue procedure
The rescue procedure helps individuals who are involved in the rescue to know how to proceed.
When designing a rescue procedure, there are certain factors you should include:
- How will a rescue system be chosen? The individual or individuals involved in the rescue can refer to the hierarchy of rescue procedures to identify the best rescue system for the situation. For example, should they lower or raise the worker? Is self-evacuation possible?
- Is it possible for multiple individuals to be involved in the rescue? Working in teams is always recommended where possible. It allows the rescue to be completed more quickly and allows the workers to share the physical and emotional load involved in a rescue.
- Where will the rescue equipment be located? It is vital that workers are able to access the rescue equipment as quickly as possible to ensure the retrieval can happen rapidly and medical care can be accessed as soon as possible.
- Is the person carrying out the rescue able to assess the situation? The individual should be fully trained in rescue procedures and how to use rescue equipment and should be able to assess the situation as quickly as possible. Everyone on-site should be aware of their role within the rescue and the individual in charge should ensure that contact is made with both the worker who has fallen and the emergency services.
- Are there any risks to the rescuers? It is important to identify any potential risks and look at ways to reduce them. For example, the rescuer should be aware that there are more risks associated with the rescuer descending, compared to other rescue procedures. The rescuer should not endanger themselves when attempting to rescue a worker who has fallen.
The rescue procedure should be implemented as soon as possible, and all staff should be made aware of it. Any workers who are expected to carry out the rescue plan should receive suitable training. Employees must refer to the rescue plan when a fall from height occurs.
Rescue procedures should be updated frequently to ensure it is still relevant and effective.
The rescue equipment
When considering the type of rescue equipment you will require, you must consider the height that the individual is working from, and any characteristics and environmental considerations related to the site.
In relation to rescue equipment, your working at height rescue plan will need to include:
- Details regarding the equipment that will be used for the rescue.
- How the equipment will be configured for different types of rescue.
- Information about the anchor points, such as where they will be located.
- Any potential limitations of the rescue plan.
- Any possible factors that could influence the rescue, such as adverse weather and extreme temperatures.
All rescue equipment should be present at the worksite at all times. It is important to ensure that the equipment is sufficient and appropriate for carrying out a rescue.
Examples of equipment you may include in your working at height rescue plan are:
- Descender devices.
- Rope clamps.
- Mobile elevating platforms.
- Anchor devices.
- Low stretch ropes.
- Rescue lifting devices.
- Retractable fall arresters.
- A crane.
- Man-riding baskets.
When considering what equipment you will use for a rescue, you must consider whether you need to lower the worker or lift them up. You need to consider anchorage points and whether there are any factors that could affect the anchorage points or lines.
You should also consider whether any factors relating to the area could affect or interfere with the rescue equipment.
Rescue equipment should be inspected, maintained and serviced regularly and should not be used for any purpose other than its intended purpose.
The person carrying out the rescue
A competent person who has sufficient training, experience, skills and knowledge should carry out a rescue.
This includes the training and skills to:
- Anchor, assemble and use rescue equipment and fall protection equipment safely and effectively.
- Inspect all equipment and systems before using them.
- Identify potential working at height hazards.
- Implement any working at height hazard control processes.
- Organise and run fall protection and rescue procedures.
It is the responsibility of the employer or manager to inform the trained or specified rescuer if a change in the rescue equipment or circumstance occurs. The specified rescuer should also receive refresher training every year.
As part of the working at height rescue plan, you will need to consider the types of medical assistance that may need to be provided immediately. This could include situations where you are waiting for an ambulance or another form of emergency medical help to arrive and situations where only a minor injury has been obtained.
All workers who could be involved in a fall from height rescue procedure should be given first aid training.
You should also ensure a fully stocked first aid kit is on-site and is easily accessible to workers.
What emergencies should a working at height rescue plan cover?
There are several emergencies that a working at height rescue plan should cover. Some of these scenarios can occur more frequently than others but the rescue plan should consider all eventualities. A rescue plan should not solely include falls from heights but should also include other accidents that could occur whilst working at height.
Some emergencies that a working at height rescue plan should include are:
- Falling from a height – This includes from a ladder, scaffolding, flat roof, or any other fall from one floor to another. The plan should include how to retrieve the worker from the safety harness and what to do in the event of injuries.
- Slipping on a surface at height – If you are working from a height and there are slip hazards present, you may slip and sustain an injury that means you are unable to climb down from the height. In this case, the rescue plan will include how to ensure the worker reaches the ground floor safely.
- Injury or concussion from falling objects – Falling objects can be particularly hazardous when working at height as they could result in the worker becoming concussed, unconscious, or too injured to independently reach the ground level. The rescue plan should include how to carry concussed, unconscious or injured workers down safely.
- Unexpected medical emergencies that result in a fall from height – What to do if a worker has a medical emergency such as a heart attack, a fit or stroke should be included in your working at height rescue plan, as the procedure may differ from usual falls from heights. For example, you may need to use a defibrillator, or administer emergency first aid.
- Falling to a level below the ground – This could include if the worker falls into a hole, basement or cellar. Procedures may differ as you may need to consider any difficulties in accessing and retrieving the worker. In contrast to other falls from height, a fall below ground level may require you to lift the worker up, rather than lower them down.
Working at height rescue plan laws and regulations
The main legislation regarding working at height is the Work at Height Regulations 2005. This legislation is designed to prevent injury and death from a fall from height. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 specifically apply to employers, managers and supervisors.
Under the regulations, employers must ensure all hazards and risks have been assessed and controlled, and that all working at height activities have been properly planned and are carried out and supervised by competent workers. They must also ensure that the correct equipment is used at all times.
Employers must also ensure that a detailed, effective and systematic working at height rescue plan is created, to be used if a fall from height occurs.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) working at height regulations also stipulate that all rescue plans and relevant equipment must be assessed and updated regularly.