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Working at height safety

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

It is all too easy to disregard the risks associated with working at height. The official definition of working at height is "work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury" but we can often underestimate what that distance might be.

How bad can a fall actually be?

If we take the time to break down what actually occurs during a fall we can shine a light on how it affects the a person. Put simply, the force of gravity means that in free fall from just one metre we hit the ground at a speed of nearly 16 kph. For an 80kg person that would translate into a force on impact of 100g. To put this into context, in a car crash, a passenger may experience as much as 50g deceleration, and, if secured by a seatbelt could come away with only superficial injuries. At 75g deceleration, the expected fatality rate is 50%. Deceleration over 80g is considered to be always fatal.

In reality the fall is, very nearly always, broken by an extended arm or leg which cushions the impact and that cushioning effect reduces the force of impact considerably. A twisted ankle, the result of absorbing the impact over 50cms, reduces the force on impact to just 2g and disguises just how close we might have come to being a fatality statistic.

The greater the distance of the fall the less that cushioning effect will protect us and the closer we will come to serious injury or death. A fall is nearly always the result of a moment’s inattention, a distraction or simply a lapse in concentration. On the basis that this happens to us all, fall protection is vital.

How can we avoid ourselves or others suffering from a fall from height?

Fall protection refers to the whole range of actions necessary to protect workers from falling when working at height. This includes equipment such as guardrails, safety platforms, fall arrest systems, anchor points, roof safety lines and other height safety products that prevent falls and minimise the risk of injury or death in the event of a fall.

This involves:

  • Assessment

  • Planning

  • Selection of Equipment

  • Training

If you are a building owner, contractor commissioned to carry out work at height or control work at height on a project or building you become a ‘duty-holder’ according to the ‘Work at Height Regulations – 2005’.​ Duty Holders are responsible for ensuring all work at height complies to the regulations. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 apply to all workplaces in the United Kingdom, including construction sites, factories, and offices. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in prosecution and fines.

Typically anything above a standard storey building (2.75) it is recommended to have a permanent means of safe access for areas at height in order to carry out maintenance, cleaning, or general access.


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