Working at height regulations 2005 (WAHR): your need-to-knows
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive reported that in 2020, of the 39 fatal accidents that occurred in construction, about a quarter were caused by falls from height. We’re not just talking about numbers here but real human lives that were ended too soon. Each of these deaths were the result of tragic incidents that may have been avoided if appropriate safeguards were in place.
If you’re an employer with responsibility for employees who work at height, it is your legal duty to devise safe methods of working. The cost of failing to do so is, quite frankly, unthinkable. Not only do you expose your workers to fatal physical risks; you also run the risk of prosecution, time-consuming court cases, mammoth compensation costs, reputational damage and even imprisonment.
This is why it is absolutely critical that all employers comply with the HSE’s working at height regulations 2005.
Working at height regs: Key facts
In a nutshell, the three key facts of the regulation are:
- Your employer must prevent you from working at height unless it’s necessary.
- It doesn’t matter how high you are—working at height is legally defined by risk of injury.
- Excluding work-related illnesses, falls from height are the most common cause of death in the workplace.
What is the main legislation that covers work at height?
The main legislation is the 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and the HSE’s 2005 Working at Height Regulations. While the Health and Safety at Work Act covers a wide range of work-related safety situations, the latter is specifically for working at height. Employers will need to ensure they are adhering to both these regulations to keep employees safe whether or not they are working in high risk conditions.
What is working at height regulations?
The UK’s working at height regulations came into force on 6th April 2005. They were designed to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries caused by working at height. The regulations are mandatory in the UK for all professionals who control work at height.
What is classed as working at height?
According to the HSE, working at height means work in any place where, if measures required by the regulations were not taken, a person could fall from a distance liable to cause personal injury. While we typically think of working at height to mean working above ground level, the law indicates that it can also apply to work at ground level where staff are at risk of falling through an opening or hole.
How is working at height defined? Is there a minimum height requirement?
Legally speaking, there is no minimum height requirement. Working at height in the UK is defined by risk of injury rather than by height. It is a common misconception that working at height means risking a fall of above two metres. While some EU countries employ this criterion, it is not enshrined in the UK’s working at height regs.
Working at height hazards
Employers should take extra care to prevent these common accidents, which can cause serious injuries and death.
- Falls from ladders
- Falls from and through fragile roofs
Note that working on roofs is a particularly risky activity. While serious injuries and deaths have occurred in construction, incidents also occur during roof repair work and roof cleaning—for example, on factory buildings, warehouses and farm buildings.
Take care to follow working at height regs when working with:
- roof lights
- liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs
- non-reinforced fibre cement sheets
- corroded metal sheets
- glass (including wired glass)
- rotted chipboard
- slates and tiles
Working at height risk assessment
How do you do a working at height risk assessment? It is important to use your common sense and adopt a pragmatic approach. The main things to consider are:
- The height of the task (remember that you can fall from ground level through holes and fragile floors etc.)
- The duration and frequency
- The surface of the workspace
- Who might be harmed and how
- What you're already doing to control the risks
- What further action you need to take to control the risks
- Who needs to carry out the action
- When the action is needed by
For low-risk tasks which are defined as ‘short duration’ (less than 30 minutes), you may only need to implement simple safety measures, such as giving staff appropriate training and instructions. Working at height regulations UK also recognises that some low-risk activities do not require specific safety precautions.
9 Steps to follow when risk assessing working at height:
- If it is reasonably possible to avoid working at height, you should do so.
- Use equipment to help you minimise the distance and consequences of a fall.
- Conduct regular checks of equipment to ensure it is suitable, stable, strong and maintained.
- Conduct as much of the task as you can from the ground.
- Ensure that staff can access the location of the job safely.
- If work surfaces are fragile, take extra precautions.
- Check if there is a risk of falling objects and, if so, take measures to protect people from harm.
- Don’t overreach or overload when working at height.
- Have thorough evacuation and rescue plans in place—and ensure all relevant workers are aware of them.
How many minimum persons are required for working at height?
According to the law, there is no minimum number as workers can work safely at height alone. However, it is advisable to have a competent person close by to supervise someone who is working at height. Indeed, if a lone worker had a serious fall, they may not be able to attract attention and get medical assistance. If you are responsible for staff who work at height alone, you must ensure they are competent and properly trained in safety protocols.
It is good practice for lone workers to inform a colleague of the anticipated length of the time for which they will be working at height. If the lone worker does not return after the specified length of time, the colleague can raise the alarm and become a first responder in the event of an emergency. In many cases, a quick medical response can reduce the chance of death.
How do you decide if someone is ‘competent’ to work at height?
If you are responsible for judging if a worker has the right skills, knowledge and experience to work at height, you may want to seek demonstrable evidence of their competency via external training and certification schemes. This is particularly advised when a more technical level of skills is needed for working at height; for example, managing the assembly of a complex scaffold structure.
Will the Work at Height Regulations 2005 be sunset in the UK?
Following on from Brexit, The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 is expected to come into play to ‘sunset’ over 2,400 EU regulations in the UK. If this happens, it means that a number of health and safety regulations will no longer apply to UK employers.
This means the working at height 2005 regulations is at risk of being scrapped in the UK. Although still unconfirmed, if the bill goes ahead it could mean this regulation will no longer be relevant in the UK after December 2023.
These plans have raised valid concerns with many industry unions, given the importance of following correct safety procedures while working at height. Access Industry Forum have launched a campaign to save the work from height regulations, to ensure that workers are kept safe and that employers continue to prevent falls and fatalities that occur while working at height.
This blog on working at height regulations 2005 is intended to raise awareness of the key concerns facing staff who work at height.
Our Working at Heights Training course provides more comprehensive guidance on how to assess risks and use the correct equipment to ensure staff safety. It covers both high risks that require thorough planning, and appropriate safety measures for low risks such as using a ladder or a kick stool for a short period of time. After completing the working at heights course, learners will feel confident and equipped to take control of their safety while working at height.
Working at Heights Training Course
Our Working at Heights course gives managers demonstrable evidence that staff are competent, equipped and confident to work safely at height. CPD accredited.