Work safely at height or in a confined space
Complying with rules to reduce the risks of falls from height and of working in a confined enclosed space to protect yourself and your employees from injury
Businesses whose staff work above or below the ground or in confined spaces must follow rules designed to reduce the risks of injury.
Falls are common in the construction and transport sectors. They can also happen in any business whose employees work on ladders, scaffolding, roofs or gangways. Even falls from low heights can cause serious injuries.
Workers in confined spaces can be at risk of physical injury, respiratory problems or even suffocation. You must take steps to control the risks. Examples of confined spaces include storage tanks, silos, drains and vats.
This guide helps you assess the risks of working at height. It covers risks such as roof, platform and walkway safety. It explains how to reduce the risk of objects falling from height. This guide also explains how to work safely in a confined space.
The following video, Internal Falls are Preventable, from the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI), highlights the critical importance of providing internal fall protection when working at height.
Assess the risks of working at height
Identifying common causes of falls in your business and their likelihood such as falls from ladders, scaffolding, roofs, gangways, catwalks and vehicles
You must consider the risks of working at height as part of your overall health and safety risk assessment.
Look at the risk of all falls in your business. You need to take precautions where anyone might fall a distance that could cause personal injury.
Injuries are often caused by falls from:
- incomplete scaffolding
- roofs and roof edges - particularly fragile roofs
- gangways and catwalks
- fragile roofllights
The poor selection, use and maintenance of equipment can lead to falls. For example, using a ladder because it's easier than erecting a tower scaffold can be dangerous. Workers should only use ladders for low risk, short duration work, eg work which takes minutes not hours to complete.
As well as the risks posed by the work at height itself, consider those caused by falling objects and by accessing the work location. For example, climbing on and off a roof or using ladders can pose significant risks.
Employers, the self-employed managers and supervisors have a legal duty to ensure:
- all work at height is properly planned
- those working at height are competent or supervised
- the risks of working on or near fragile surfaces are properly controlled
- equipment for working at height is properly inspected and maintained
Reduce the risks
You must avoid work at height where possible. Workers must use equipment to prevent or minimise the consequences of falls where working at height is the only option. Equipment may include preventative measures like scaffolds and mobile elavated work platforms (MEWPs), such as cherry pickers. You should only consider using personal protection equipment, eg work restraints, to minimise the consequences of a fall when collective preventive measures are not possible.
Planning to work safely at height
How to identify ways of reducing the risks of falls, such as using safe working platforms, planning work properly and providing appropriate training
You need to take steps to reduce the risks of falls that could cause personal injury to anyone on your premises or site. This includes employees, visitors and contractors.
When planning work at height you must make sure:
- all work is properly planned and appropriately supervised
- all work takes account of weather conditions that could endanger health and safety
- those involved in work at height are trained and competent
- the place for working at height is safe
- equipment for work at height is appropriately inspected
- the risks from fragile surfaces and falling objects are properly controlled
- you have plans in place to cover emergencies
- you have rescue plans in place
Safe working platforms
Where possible you need to ensure the work is carried out from a safe working platform. This may be an existing structure, such as a flat roof. If the existing structure isn't suitable you'll have to provide a safe working platform, such as a mobile elevated work platform. All work should be be carried out from inside the basket.
All work on a roof is high risk and high safety standards are essential however long the work will take. You must identify the risks before the work starts. Make sure you provide the necessary equipment, appropriate precautions and systems of work and that workers use them.
Remember that workers should only use ladders should light work for short periods (15-30 minutes, depending on the task). Use them as a means of access, rather than as a work platform.
Where you cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, you must use work equipment or other measures that will minimise the consequences of a fall. This may include nets or airbags.
Alternatively, you might raise the floor level using a temporary platform.
If lifting or manual handling forms part of the work, such as moving heavy equipment or materials up to a height, you could consider using lifts and hoists to reduce the risk of accidents.
Anyone working with this type of equipment must have the appropriate training. They must have the skills, knowledge and experience to set up and use it.
Roof, platform and walkway safety for working at height
The steps you should take - and the equipment you can use - to make working on roofs and platforms safe including scaffolding, duckboards and guard rails
Accidents can happen to people maintaining, cleaning, demolishing and inspecting building roofs. Remember, working on a roof can be dangerous. A fall from a roof will generally cause serious injury.
It's vital to ensure existing structures such as roofs and working platforms are safe.
Platforms and existing structures must be stable. They must support the weight of workers who need to use them and any equipment or materials they may need.
Make platforms safe
You must food platforms on firm ground or on a stable structure to prevent them from moving. For example, you should tie scaffolding to an existing structure following the manufacturers' or designers' instructions.
Consider using covers over fragile roof lights and other fragile surfaces. You must erect guard rails, boards or other barriers, such as toe boards, to stop anyone falling off the edge of platforms or roofs, or through holes in the floor.
There are many types of platform, including:
- tower and general scaffolding
- mobile and suspended equipment
- mobile elevating work platforms
The type of equipment you use will depend on the:
- working conditions and duration of work
- number of users
- risks of erecting the structure
Your health and safety risk assessment should help you choose the most suitable type of equipment to use.
You need to ensure that all work equipment, including tools, is well maintained and checked regularly. Remove all equipment from the platform at the end of the working day, and switch off any power supplies.
Reduce the risks of objects falling from height
Methods to prevent injuries and damage caused by falling equipment, tools, materials or debris including platforms, toe boards, netting and covered walkways
When people are working at height you must consider the risk of objects falling onto somebody or something below.
Any hand-held equipment such as drills or saws can be dropped or knocked over the edge of a platform or walkway. Materials such as nails, pieces of wood and debris can also represent a significant hazard.
Key steps to prevent objects falling
Follow these key steps to reduce the risks:
- For work over public areas, a double-boarded platform with a polythene sheet in between the boards prevents small items such as nails and bolts from falling.
- Platforms should be made so that materials or objects can't fall and cause injury to anyone or anything below. Close-boarded platforms are usually safe enough.
- On scaffolding and tower scaffolds consider using brick guards, netting or other suitable protection to prevent materials falling.
- Toe boards also prevent anyone kicking items off the edge of platforms.
- Providing a covered walkway is another way to protect people below.
- If you're using a cradle, harness or mobile elevated working platform, use mesh or netting underneath the equipment to prevent anything falling.
- Covered chutes are an effective and quick method of removing debris from work areas. This is much safer than throwing items over the side of a platform into a skip below.
- Tools such as drills and trowels can be attached to safety lines. If they're accidentally dropped, the line prevents them falling below the work area.
- Remember that bad weather can cause difficulties for outdoor work, with wind blowing materials and equipment off platforms. If the weather is particularly severe, you may have to stop work to prevent putting people at risk.
Working safely in confined space
Confined spaces, from storage tanks, silos and drains to vats, can pose risks to workers industries such as agriculture, installation and telecommunications
Confined spaces can pose certain health and safety risks for workers.
What is a confined space?
A confined space has two defining features:
- it is a place that is substantially (though not always entirely) enclosed
- serious injury can occur from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby, eg a lack of oxygen
Confined spaces can include:
- areas with limited openings such as storage tanks, silos, reaction vessels, enclosed drains, sewers
- open-topped chambers such as vats, combustion chambers in furnaces, ductwork
- closed, unventilated or poorly ventilated rooms
Industries that work in confined spaces
There are many types of industry which typically require employees to work in confined spaces. For example:
- agricultural workers may have to work in silos
- surveyors working on building sites or in domestic settings may have to crawl underneath floorboards or in cellars
- telecommunications engineers may have to work in enclosed drains
- workers cleaning out and maintaining storage vessels and vats
- workers maintaining or installing equipment, service cables and pipes
Confined space safety law
You must ensure that any work carried out in a confined space, where there is a risk of serious injury, complies with the Confined Spaces Regulations.
Assess the risks of working in confined spaces
Identifying typical hazards in enclosed spaces and analysing the chances of their occurring including lack of oxygen, poisonous gases, fumes and fire
Under the Confined Spaces Regulations, you must:
- carry out a risk assessment to identify potential hazards to safety caused by work in confined spaces
- assess the level of risk the hazards pose
- decide whether you need to take steps to manage these risks, including putting emergency arrangements in place
Typical hazards in confined spaces include:
- lack of oxygen
- poisonous gases
- fumes or vapours
- liquids or solids, eg grain, filling the space
- fire and explosions
- high temperature
Anyone working in confined spaces is also at risk from physical dangers such as knocking their head or limbs against protruding structures such as metal struts or wooden support beams.
While some risks may be a feature of the confined space itself, the particular work activities can cause others.
For example, fumes from welding equipment could deplete oxygen levels and increase the risk of fire or explosion.
You must train anyone working in a confined space for the task in hand. You should check that working in a confined space won't trigger or make worse any medical conditions such as a bad back, claustrophobia or breathing problems such as asthma.
Smoking is now banned in any enclosed public places, workplaces or company vehicles used by more than one person. You must display a no-smoking sign at the entrance to your premises and in vehicles.
Manage the risks posed by working in confined spaces
Safe systems, specialist tools, equipment, air testing, ventilation and emergency procedures to reduce the risks of working in confined space
First you must consider whether the work in the confined space is really necessary. Consider whether you could carry out the work without entering the space. Better work planning or a different approach can reduce the need for confined-space working. If, for example, you need to inspect the inside of a silo you could tackle the work from outside the space using specialist equipment with cameras and sensors.
If you can't do this, you must plan a safe way to carry out the work.
Confined space safe system of work
Your system might include:
- appointing a supervisor
- checking individuals are suitable for the work
- checking the size of the entrance
- providing ventilation
- testing the air
- providing special tools and lighting
- providing breathing apparatus
- people working in teams, with an observer present at all times
You may need to organise a permit-to-work system which will involve:
- identifying the person who can authorise jobs and who is responsible for stating required precautions such as emergency procedures and air testing
- ensuring contractors don't operate outside the system
- training and instruction on the issue of permits
- monitoring the system to check it works
You must also put an emergency procedure in place before the work starts in case there is an incident. Effective arrangements for raising the alarm and carrying out rescue operations are essential. The contingency plan will depend on the nature of the confined space, the risks identified and the likely nature of the emergency rescue. This will cover:
- communications from inside the confined space to people outside so that rescue procedures can start
- providing suitable rescue and resuscitation equipment
- having properly trained people ready, who are fit and capable of using any equipment provided for rescue
- first-aid procedures
- how to contact the emergency services and what information about the particular dangers in the confined space will be given to them on their arrival