Work at Height

A refrigeration company has been fined £27,000 after an incident where a worker suffered gantry fall injuries while carrying out work at height.

GEA Refrigeration UK Ltd was replacing a cooler unit located on a gantry 10m above the warehouse floor at an Iceland depot in Swindon on 1 February 2017.

work at height
Stock image

This required a section of the gantry floor to be removed. A GEA employee fell 2.5 metres through the gap created by this removal and on to a cherry picker, suffering fractured ribs and internal injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to properly plan, co-ordinate and supervise the work, including the removal of the gantry floor to ensure the work was carried out in a safe manner to control the risks of falls.

GEA Refrigeration UK Ltd, of Ludgate Hill, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was fined £27,000 and ordered to pay £35,000 costs and a victim surcharge of £170 at Bristol Crown Court on 30 September 2022.

“This incident could have been avoided by identifying and implementing effective control measures and safe working practices.

“Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related injury and fatalities and the risks associated with working at height are well known.”

HSE inspector Leo Diez

In his victim personal statement, the injured worker said: “The effect of the accident on my personal and work life has been huge and has had a lasting effect.”

Work at Height Regulations

Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. Common causes are falls from ladders and through fragile roofs. The purpose of The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is to prevent death and injury caused by a fall from height. If you are an employer or you control work at height (for example facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height) the Regulations apply to you.

Employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This includes using the right type of equipment for working at height. Low-risk, relatively straightforward tasks will require less effort when it comes to planning.  Employers and those in control must first assess the risks by carrying out a risk assessment.  Where you employ 5 or more employees, your risk assessment must be in writing.

Employees have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions, and to co-operate with their employer to enable their health and safety duties and requirements to be complied with.

Work at Height Guidance

Work at height means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. For example, you are working at height if you:

  • are working on a ladder or a flat roof;
  • could fall through a fragile surface;
  • could fall into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.

Take a sensible approach when considering precautions for work at height. There may be some low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary and the law recognises this.

There is a common misconception that ladders, and stepladders are banned, but this is not the case. There are many situations where a ladder is the most suitable equipment for working at height.  Before working at height, you must work through these simple steps:

  • avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so;
  • where work at height cannot be avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment;
  • minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated.

You should:

  1. do as much work as possible from the ground;
  2. ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height;
  3. ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly;
  4. make sure you don’t overload or overreach when working at height;
  5. take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces;
  6. provide protection from falling objects;
  7. consider your emergency evacuation and rescue procedures.

If you need health, safety and environmental advice for your business, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.

Ultimate safety guide to working at height

A waste management company has been fined £190,000 after a contractor died when he fell seven metres while carrying out maintenance work and our ultimate safety guide to working at height will help avoid similar accidents in your business.

The experienced maintenance contractor was part of a team under the control and direction of Wiltshire-based Hills Waste Solutions Limited. He sustained fatal injuries in the fall on 18 November 2020, while working on a mechanical screening and separating plant on the Hills Waste Solutions site in Stephenson Road, Westbury.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Hills Waste Solutions Limited failed to ensure that work at height was properly assessed and planned. The company failed to consider and identify how the necessary work at height could be carried out safely to ensure that the risk of falls was controlled.

Hills Waste Solutions Limited, of Swindon pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The company was fined £190,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,816, with a victim surcharge of £190 at Aldershot Magistrates’ Court on 17 August 2022.

“Those in control of work have a duty to assess the risks and devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to those undertaking the work”.

“This incident could have been prevented had the work been adequately planned.”

HSE inspector Matt Tyler

ultimate safety guide to working at height

Ultimate safety guide to working at height

The purpose of The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is to prevent death and injury caused by a fall from height. If you are an employer or you control work at height (for example facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height) the Regulations apply to you, and you must take steps to eliminate or reduce the risks as far as reasonably practicable.

Employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This includes using the right type of equipment for working at height. Low-risk, relatively straightforward tasks will require less effort when it comes to planning.

Employers and those in control must first assess the risks.

Employees have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions, and to co-operate with their employer to enable their health and safety duties and requirements to be complied with.

Step by step guide to working at height

Considering the risks associated with work at height and putting in place sensible and proportionate measures to manage them is an important part of working safely. Follow this simple step-by-step guide to help you control risks when working at height.

Can you avoid working at height in the first place?

Do as much work as possible from the ground. A health and safety manager who I worked with for many years always used to say, “the safest place to be when doing work at height is on the ground!” Some practical examples of this include:

  • using extendable tools from ground level to remove the need to climb a ladder
  • installing cables at ground level
  • lowering a lighting mast to ground level
  • ground level assembly of edge protection

If you cannot avoid working at height by the above measures, then you should put in place measures to prevent a fall.

Can you prevent a fall from occurring?

Falls can be prevented by taking measures such as (i) using an existing place of work that is already safe, e.g. a non-fragile roof with a permanent perimeter guardrail or, if not, using work equipment to prevent people from falling.

Some practical examples of collective protection when using an existing place of work such as a concrete flat roof with existing edge protection, or guarded mezzanine floor, or plant or machinery with fixed guard rails around it.

Some practical examples of collective protection using work equipment to prevent a fall:

  • mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) such as scissor lifts
  • tower scaffolds
  • scaffolds

An example of personal protection using work equipment to prevent a fall would be using a work restraint (travel restriction) system that prevents a worker getting into a fall position.

Can you minimise the distance and or consequences of a fall?

If the risk of a person falling remains, you must take sufficient measures to minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall.  Practical examples of collective protection using work equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall include safety nets and soft-landing systems, e.g. air bags, installed close to the level of the work.

An example of personal protection used to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall would be industrial rope access, e.g. working on a building façade, or a fall arrest system using a high anchor point.

Can I use ladders when working at height?

For tasks of low risk and short duration, ladders and stepladders can be a sensible and practical option.  However, ladders should not automatically be your first choice.  If your risk assessment determines it is correct to use a ladder, you should further minimise the risk by making sure workers:

  • use the right type of ladder for the job
  • are competent (you can provide adequate training and/or supervision to help)
  • use the equipment provided safely and follow a safe system of work
  • are fully aware of the risks and measures to help control them

There are simple, sensible precautions you should take to stay safe when using portable leaning ladders and stepladders in the workplace.  Employers must make sure that workers use the right type of ladder and that they know how to use it safely.

ultimate safety guide to working at height
Netting to prevent falls

When to use a ladder at work

Ladders can be used for work at height when an assessment of the risk for carrying out a task has shown that using equipment that offers a higher level of fall protection is not justified.  This is because of the low risk and short duration of use, or there are existing workplace features which cannot be altered.

Short duration is not the deciding factor in establishing whether use of a ladder is acceptable – employers must have first considered risk.  As a guide, if your task would require staying up a leaning ladder or stepladder for more than 30 minutes at a time, it is recommended you use alternative equipment.

You should only use ladders in situations where they can be used safely, e.g. where the ladder will be level and stable, and can be secured (where it is reasonably practicable to do so).

Know how to use a ladder safely when working at height

To use a ladder, workers must be competent or, if they are being trained, they should be working under the supervision of a competent person.  Competence can be demonstrated through a combination of training, practical and theoretical knowledge, and experience.  In addition, training should be appropriate for the task, and this includes knowing:

  • how to assess the risks of using a ladder for a particular task
  • when it is right to use a ladder (and when it is not)
  • which type of ladder to use and how to use it

How to check your ladder is safe before you use it

Employers must have procedures in place to ensure that before using a ladder, employees have access to user instructions from the manufacturer in case they need to refer to them and that workers always carry out a ‘pre-use’ check to spot any obvious visual defects to make sure the ladder is safe to use.

A pre-use check should be carried out:

  • by the person using the ladder
  • at the beginning of the working day
  • after something has changed, e.g., a ladder has been dropped or moved from a dirty area to a clean area (check the state or condition of the feet)

The check should include:

  • the stiles – make sure they are not bent or damaged, as the ladder could buckle or collapse
  • the feet – if they are missing, worn or damaged the ladder could slip. Also check the ladder feet when moving from soft/dirty ground (e.g. dug soil, loose sand/stone, a dirty workshop) to a smooth, solid surface (e.g. paving slabs), to make sure the actual feet and not the dirt (e.g. soil, chippings or embedded stones) are making contact with the ground
  • the rungs – if they are bent, worn, missing or loose, the ladder could fail
  • any locking mechanism – does the mechanism work properly? Are components or fixings bent, worn or damaged? If so, the ladder could collapse. Ensure any locking bars are fully engaged
  • the stepladder platform – if it is split or buckled, the ladder could become unstable or collapse
  • the steps or treads on stepladders – if they are contaminated, they could be slippery; if the fixings are loose on the steps, they could collapse

If employees identify any of the above defects, they should not use the ladders and should report the faults to the person in charge of the work.

Types of ladder and how to use them safely

Ultimate safety guide to working at height: Leaning ladders

When using a leaning ladder to carry out a task:

  • Only carry light materials and tools – read the manufacturer’s labels on the ladder and assess the risks
  • Do not overreach – make sure your belt buckle (or navel) stays within the stiles
  • Make sure the ladder is long enough or high enough for the task
  • Do not overload the ladder – consider your weight and the equipment or materials you are carrying before working at height
  • Check the pictogram or label on the ladder for any advisory information
  • To help make sure the ladder angle is at the safest position to work from- you should use the 1-in-4 rule. This is where the ladder should be one space or unit of measurement out for every four spaces or units up (a 75° angle)
  • Always grip the ladder and face the ladder rungs while climbing or descending – do not slide down the stiles
  • Do not try to move or extend the ladder while standing on the rungs
  • Do not work off the top three rungs. Try to make sure that the ladder extends at least 1 metre or three rungs above where you are working
  • Do not stand ladders on movable objects, such as pallets, bricks, lift trucks, tower scaffolds, excavator buckets, vans or mobile elevating work platforms
  • Avoid holding items when climbing (consider using a tool belt)
  • Do not work within 6 m horizontally of any overhead power line, unless it has been made dead or it is protected with insulation. Use a non-conductive ladder (e.g. fibreglass or timber) for any electrical work
  • Maintain three points of contact when climbing and wherever possible at the work position.
  • Where you cannot maintain a handhold, other than for a brief period (e.g. to hold a nail while starting to knock it in, start a screw etc), you will need to take other measures to prevent a fall or mitigate the consequences if one happened
  • Secure the ladder (e.g. by tying the ladder to prevent it from slipping either outwards or sideways) and have a strong upper resting point (i.e. do not rest it against weak upper surfaces such as glazing or plastic gutters)
  • Consider using an effective stability device (a device which, if used correctly, prevents the ladder from slipping, some types of ladders come with these)

Ultimate safety guide to working at height: Telescopic ladders

Telescopic ladders are a variation of leaning ladders but remember that they do not all work in the same way.  They should always be used, stored and transported with care and kept clean. In addition to following this guidance, it is important you read and follow the user instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Before every use – in addition to the normal ladder checks – make sure they are operating correctly and that the mechanisms that lock each section are working properly.

Always follow the user instructions regarding the opening and closing procedure. Be aware of the potential for trapping fingers between the closing sections. Remember some of the important parts are inside where they cannot be seen. If you are in any doubt, do not use them.

Ultimate safety guide to working at height: Stepladders

Our ultimate safety guide to working at height would not be complete without mentioning stepladders. When using a stepladder to carry out a task:

  • Check all four stepladder feet are in contact with the ground and the steps are level
  • Only carry light materials and tools
  • Do not overreach
  • Do not stand and work on the top three steps (including a step forming the very top of the stepladder) unless there is a suitable handhold
  • Ensure any locking devices are engaged
  • Try to position the stepladder to face the work activity and not side on. However, there are occasions when a risk assessment may show it is safer to work side on, e.g. in a retail stock room when you cannot engage the stepladder locks to work face on because of space restraints in narrow aisles, but you can fully lock it to work side on
  • Try to avoid work that imposes a side loading, such as side-on drilling through solid materials (e.g. bricks or concrete)
  • Where side loadings cannot be avoided, you should prevent the steps from tipping over, e.g., by tying the steps. Otherwise, use a more suitable type of access equipment
  • Maintain three points of contact at the working position. This means two feet and one hand, or when both hands need to be free for a brief period, two feet and the body supported by the stepladder.

When deciding whether it is safe to carry out a particular task on a stepladder where you cannot maintain a handhold (e.g. to put a box on a shelf, hang wallpaper, or install a smoke detector on a ceiling), the decision needs to be justified, taking into account:

  • the height of the task
  • whether a handhold is still available to steady yourself before and after the task
  • whether it is light work
  • whether it avoids side loading
  • whether it avoids overreaching
  • whether the stepladder can be tied (e.g. when side-on working)

Ultimate safety guide to working at height: Combination and multi-purpose ladders

Combination and multi-purpose ladders can be used as stepladders, a variation of stepladders or leaning ladders. Combination ladders are sometimes referred to as ‘A’ frame ladders and these types of ladders can be used in a variety of different configurations. You should:

  • check to ensure that any locking mechanism is properly engaged before use
  • always recheck the locking mechanism if the setup of the ladder is changed
  • on three-part combination ladders, never extend the top section (the section extending above the A frame) beyond the limit marked on the ladder and specified in the user manual

Where ladders should be used

As a guide, only use a ladder:

  • on firm ground
  • on level ground – refer to the manufacturer’s pictograms on the side of the ladder. Use proprietary levelling devices, not ad-hoc packing such as bricks, blocks, timbers etc
  • on clean, solid surfaces (paving slabs, floors etc). These need to be clean (no oil, moss or leaf litter) and free of loose material (sand, packaging materials etc) so the feet can grip. Shiny floor surfaces can be slippery even without contamination
  • where it will not be struck by vehicles (protect the area using suitable barriers or cones)
  • where it will not be pushed over by other hazards such as doors or windows, i.e., secure the doors (not fire exits) and windows where possible
  • where the general public are prevented from using it, walking underneath it or being at risk because they are too near (use barriers, cones or, as a last resort, a person standing guard at the base)
  • where it has been secured

Securing ladders and ladders used for access

There are various options available for securing ladders:

  • Tie the ladder to a suitable point, making sure both stiles are tied
  • Where this is not practical, secure the ladder with an effective ladder stability device
  • If this is not possible, securely wedge the ladder (e.g. wedge the stiles against a wall)

If you cannot achieve any of these options, foot the ladder – footing is the last resort.

Ladders used for access

In general:

  • Ladders used to access another level should be tied and extend at least 1 m above the landing point to provide a secure handhold
  • At ladder access points, a self-closing gate is recommended
  • Stepladders should not be used to access another level unless they have been specifically designed for this.

Inspecting the condition of ladders

An important element in our ultimate safety guide for working at height is inspections. Employers need to make sure that any ladder or stepladder is both suitable for the work task and in a safe condition before use. As a guide, only use ladders or stepladders that:

  • have no visible defects – they should have a pre-use check each working day
  • have an up-to-date record of the detailed visual inspections carried out regularly by a competent person. These should be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Ladders that are part of a scaffold system still have to be inspected every seven days as part of the scaffold inspection requirements
  • are suitable for the intended use, i.e. are strong and robust enough for the job
  • have been maintained and stored in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions

A detailed visual inspection is similar to pre-use checks, in that it is used to spot defects and can be done on site by a competent employee.  Pre-use checks make sure that a ladder is safe to use and are for the immediate benefit of the ladder user.  These checks do not need to be recorded. Any problems or issues should be reported to a manager.

Detailed visual inspections are the responsibility of the employer. They should be carried out at fixed intervals and recorded. Records of these inspections provide a snapshot of the state of the ladders over time.  When doing an inspection, look for:

  • damaged or worn ladder feet
  • twisted, bent or dented stiles
  • cracked, worn, bent or loose rungs
  • missing or damaged tie rods
  • cracked or damaged welded joints, loose rivets or damaged stays

Pre-use checks and inspections of ladder stability devices and other accessories should be performed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Consider any trends in defect reporting which may suggest that they ladders are not being maintained or are not suitable for the work task being conducted. 

Ladder product standards

There are a number of recognised Standards that are relevant to ladders which include the EN131 standard for portable steps and ladders.

While BS2037 and BS1129 have been withdrawn, ladders originally made to these standards prior to their withdrawal may still be used (subject to following user instructions and guidance on safe use).

Conclusion

The success to any working at height activity is in the planning.  As an employer you should ensure that all working at height tasks are carefully planned, use the correct equipment and that workers are competent to carry out the activity.  This ultimate safety guide to working at height should help you plan for such work activities and, if you require advice or support for your business, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.

Unsafe working

Unsafe working at height activity has resulted in a carpentry and joinery company being fined after a man working unsecured on the forks of a fork-lift truck fell 3.5 metres to the ground.

On 14 June 2021, the man was working for Staircraft Group Limited at their head office site at Bayton Road Industrial Estate, Exhall, Coventry.

The employee was working from an unsecured stillage on the forks of a fork-lift truck in order to clean office windows at height.  The stillage tipped and the employee fell 3.5 metres to the ground.  As a result of the incident, he sustained a broken leg and an injury to his elbow.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to identify that using a stillage to lift someone on the forks of a forklift truck, a method that they had used before, was unsafe.  There was a lack of training for employees on the dangers of working at height without the proper equipment and there were no systems of work or risk assessments in place.

At Redditch Magistrates’ Court Staircraft Group Limited, of Bayton Road Industrial Estate, Exhall, Coventry pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Regulations 1974 and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,477.93.

“The employee’s injuries were very serious, and he could have easily been killed.

“This serious incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.

“Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

HSE inspector Rebecca Whiley

Employers have a duty to assess the risks of working at height and to eliminate or reduce risks as far as reasonably practicable.  The Work at Height Regulations 2005 impose duties on employers to ensure that activities which are required to take place at height are conducted safely. 

Work at height means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. This includes work above ground/floor level, locations where you could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground

Work at height does not include a slip or a trip on the level, as a fall from height has to involve a fall from one level to a lower level, nor does it include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building. 

unsafe working

Unsafe working at height can occur when tasks are not properly planned.  The Regulations apply to all work at height, where there is risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. They place duties on employers, and those who control any work at height activity (such as facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height).  As part of the Regulations, you must ensure:

  • all work at height is properly planned and organised
  • those involved in work at height are competent
  • the risks from work at height are assessed, and appropriate work equipment is selected and used
  • the risks of working on or near fragile surfaces are properly managed
  • the equipment used for work at height is properly inspected and maintained

Before working at height, you must follow these simple steps:

  • avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so
  • where work at height cannot be easily avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment
  • minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated

Unsafe working at height can occur when tasks are not properly planned. In planning a work at height task, you should:

  • do as much work as possible from the ground
  • ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
  • ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly
  • not overload or overreach when working at height
  • take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
  • provide protection from falling objects
  • consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures

What about ladders?

Unsafe working can occur if ladders are used inappropriately. The law says that ladders can be used for work at height when a risk assessment has shown that using equipment offering a higher level of fall protection is not justified because of the low risk and short duration of use; or there are existing workplace features which cannot be altered.

Short duration is not the deciding factor in establishing whether an activity is acceptable or not – you should have first considered the risk. As a guide, if your task would require staying up a leaning ladder or stepladder for more than 30 minutes at a time, it is recommended that you consider alternative equipment.

You should only use ladders in situations where they can be used safely, e.g. where the ladder will be level and stable, and where its reasonably practicable to do so, the ladder can be secured.

The HSE has produced a guide, Safe Use of Ladders and Stepladders which is available as a free download.

If you require advice on working at height in your business, please contact on of the Ashbrooke team.

Fatal incident investigation

A fatal incident investigation has been launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the death of a 27-year-old worker at a steelworks in Scunthorpe.  The incident happened on Saturday 16 July at a business premises on Brigg Road, Scunthorpe.

Emergency services responded to reports of a fall from height and the worker was pronounced dead at the scene.

After initial enquiries were made by the HSE and Humberside Police, it was established that the HSE will lead the investigation into the circumstances of the incident.

, said:

“Our thoughts are with the family of the person who died.  We are determined to understand the full facts of what happened on Saturday. Doing so may take time, but we will remain in close contact with the family.”

Jane Fox, HSE principal inspector
fatal incident

The HSE has a protocol in place with police regarding the investigation of workplace fatalities such as this fatal incident – Work-related Deaths: A Protocol for Liaison.  The document sets out how workplace related deaths are investigated and importantly by which organisation. 

The Protocol is a high-level document which is supported by, and should be read in conjunction with, the Work-related Deaths Protocol Practical Guide which sets out a straightforward step-by-step approach to the joint investigation of work-related deaths. The purpose of the protocol and supporting guide is to ensure effective joint investigation of work-related deaths in England and Wales. Since its introduction in 1998, the protocol has become a tried and tested approach to effective liaison between the signatory organisations when investigating a work-related death. By

signing the protocol, signatories confirm their commitment to the joint investigation approach, appreciating that the public want to be confident that those investigating work-related deaths are doing all that they can to co-ordinate activities, and to cooperate with each other in the best interests of public safety and of those affected by work-related deaths. If you require advice on health and safety in your workplace, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.

Steel company fined for safety breaches

A northeast steel company has been fined for safety breaches after inspectors visited a site in Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

Acting on concerns raised, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited the steel supplies site in 2019, finding wholly inadequate management of health and safety. It also came to light that; two workers had been injured on separate occasions whilst operating machinery at the premises. In June 2019, an employee was struck and injured by a work piece and suffered an injury to his right hand. In July 2019, an agency worker suffered a finger amputation whilst manually removing a piece of metal near the unguarded blade of another machine.

An investigation by HSE found the company had failed to prevent access to the dangerous moving parts on both machines. These machines were metal rebar forming machines and had been used at the site for a number of years. In addition to the guarding faults, the HSE also found the emergency stop and safety devices wired out on one of the machines.

Furthermore, the machinery risk assessments were substandard, and staff were trained to operate the machines in an unsafe manner. The company also had a forklift truck in daily use, despite it having defective brakes.

Midland Steel Reinforcement Supplies (UK) Limited, of Motherwell pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Regulations 5(1) and 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and Regulation 9(3) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998.  At Durham Crown Court, the company was fined £450,000 and ordered to pay £41,23.51 costs.

“Companies have a duty of care to those they employee and HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action.”

HSE inspector Clare Maltby

safety breaches
Work equipment must be suitable for the task and maintained (stock image)

Work Equipment

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, often abbreviated to PUWER, place duties on people and companies who own, operate or have control over work equipment. PUWER also places responsibilities on businesses and organisations whose employees use work equipment, whether owned by them or not.  PUWER requires that equipment provided for use at work is:

  • suitable for the intended use
  • safe for use, maintained in a safe condition and inspected to ensure it is correctly installed and does not subsequently deteriorate
  • used only by people who have received adequate information, instruction and training
  • accompanied by suitable health and safety measures, such as protective devices and controls. These will normally include guarding, emergency stop devices, adequate means of isolation from sources of energy, clearly visible markings and warning devices
  • used in accordance with specific requirements, for mobile work equipment and power presses

Some work equipment is subject to other health and safety legislation in addition to PUWER. For example, lifting equipment must also meet the requirements of LOLER, pressure equipment must meet the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations and personal protective equipment must meet the PPE Regulations.

If your business or organisation uses work equipment or is involved in providing work equipment for others to use (e.g. for hire), you must manage the risks from that equipment. This means you must:

  • ensure the equipment is constructed or adapted to be suitable for the purpose it is used or provided for
  • take account of the working conditions and health and safety risks in the workplace when selecting work equipment
  • ensure work equipment is only used for suitable purposes
  • ensure work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair
  • where a machine has a maintenance log, keep this up to date
  • where the safety of work equipment depends on the manner of installation, it must be inspected after installation and before being put into use
  • where work equipment is exposed to deteriorating conditions liable to result in dangerous situations, it must be inspected to ensure faults are detected in good time so the risk to health and safety is managed
  • ensure that all people using, supervising or managing the use of work equipment are provided with adequate, clear health and safety information. This will include, where necessary, written instructions on its use and suitable equipment markings and warnings
  • ensure that all people who use, supervise or manage the use of work equipment have received adequate training, which should include the correct use of the equipment, the risks that may arise from its use and the precautions to take
  • where the use of work equipment is likely to involve a specific risk to health and safety (eg woodworking machinery), ensure that the use of the equipment is restricted to those people trained and appointed to use it
  • take effective measures to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery. This will normally be by fixed guarding but where routine access is needed, interlocked guards (sometimes with guard locking) may be needed to stop the movement of dangerous parts before a person can reach the danger zone. Where this is not possible, such as with the blade of a circular saw, it must be protected as far as possible and a safe system of work used. These protective measures should follow the hierarchy laid down in PUWER regulation 11(2) and the PUWER Approved Code of Practice and guidance or, for woodworking machinery, the Safe use of woodworking machinery: Approved Code of Practice and guidance
  • take measures to prevent or control the risks to people from parts and substances falling or being ejected from work equipment, or the rupture or disintegration of work equipment
  • ensure that the risks from very hot or cold temperatures from the work equipment or the material being processed or used are managed to prevent injury
  • ensure that work equipment is provided with appropriately identified controls for starting, stopping and controlling it, and that these control systems are safe
  • where appropriate, provide suitable means of isolating work equipment from all power sources (including electric, hydraulic, pneumatic and gravitational energy)
  • ensure work equipment is stabilised by clamping or otherwise to avoid injury
  • take appropriate measures to ensure maintenance operations on work equipment can be carried out safely while the equipment is shut down, without exposing people undertaking maintenance operations to risks to their health and safety

When providing new work equipment for use at work, you must ensure it conforms with the essential requirements of any relevant product supply law (for new machinery this means the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations). You must check it:

  • has appropriate conformity marking and is labelled with the manufacturer’s details 
  • comes with a Declaration of Conformity
  • is provided with instructions in English
  • is free from obvious defects – and that it remains so during its working life

Risk Assessments

Employers are required by law to protect your employees, and others, from harm.  Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the minimum an employer must do is:

  • identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

Assessing risk is just one part of the overall process used to control risks in the workplace.  For most small, low-risk businesses the steps that employers need to take are straightforward.  Risk management is a step-by-step process for controlling health and safety risks caused by hazards in the workplace.  An employer can undertake the risk assessment themselves or appoint a competent person to help.  The five steps of a risk assessment are:

  • Identify hazards
  • Assess the risks
  • Control the risks
  • Record your findings
  • Review the controls

Identify Hazards

Look around your workplace and think about what may cause harm (these are called hazards). Think about:

  • how people work and how plant and equipment are used
  • what chemicals and substances are used
  • what safe or unsafe work practices exist
  • the general state of your premises

Look back at previous accident and ill health records as these can help you identify less obvious hazards. Take account of non-routine operations, such as maintenance, cleaning or changes in production cycles.  Think about hazards to health, such as manual handling, use of chemicals and causes of work-related stress.  For each hazard, think about how employees, contractors, visitors or members of the public might be harmed.

Some workers have particular requirements, for example young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers and people with disabilities.  Ensure that you involve your employees as they will usually have good ideas.

Assess the risks

Once you have identified the hazards, decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be – this is assessing the level of risk. In assessing the level of risk, decide:

  • 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

Control the risks

Look at what you are already doing, and the controls you already have in place to ensure the safety of workers and others. Consider:

  • Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
  • If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?

If you need further controls, consider:

  • redesigning the job
  • replacing the materials, machinery or process
  • organising your work to reduce exposure to the materials, machinery or process
  • identifying and implementing practical measures needed to work safely
  • providing personal protective equipment and making sure workers wear it

Put the controls you have identified in place. It is important to remember that you are not expected to eliminate all risks but you need to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble.

Record your findings

If you employ 5 or more people, you must record your significant findings, including:

  • the hazards (things that may cause harm)
  • who might be harmed and how
  • what you are doing to control the risks

The HSE has a number of example risk assessments on its website as a guide for employers.  Employers should not rely purely on paperwork, as the main priority should be to control the risks in practice.

Review the controls

You must review the controls you have put in place to make sure they are working. You should also review them if:

  • they may no longer be effective
  • there are changes in the workplace that could lead to new risks such as changes to:
  • staff
  • a process
  • the substances or equipment used

Also consider a review if your workers have spotted any problems or there have been any accidents or near misses.  You should then update your risk assessment record with any changes you make.

If you require advice on health and safety in your workplace, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.

Roofer jailed following fall injuries

A roofing contractor has been jailed for four months after a worker was seriously injured falling through a fragile roof on to a concrete floor.

The man and another labourer, who were working for Geoff Whitehouse, trading as Midland Roofing, were working on a fragile roof on 11 August 2021 to remove old skylights at premises in Henley Road, Warwick.

The injured worker fell approximately three metres through the roof and suffered serious multiple fractures including a fractured skull.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the majority of the work could have been done from underneath the roof.  The inside of the roof could have been fitted with nets prior to anyone going on to the fragile surface so that someone falling would have been saved by the nets. The work at height was not adequately planned, managed nor supervised.

Additionally, Mr Whitehouse did not have employers’ liability insurance in place. Employers’ liability insurance ensures employers to have at least the minimum level of insurance to cover against claims brought by employees that are injured at work or become ill as a result of work.

Geoff Whitehouse, trading as Midland Roofing, of Worcester pleaded guilty to breaches under Section 1(1) of the Employers Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 and Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended) at Coventry Magistrates’ Court.  He was sentenced to four months in prison at Redditch Magistrates’ Court.

roofing contractor jailed
Working at height requires careful planning (stock image)

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Michael Griffiths, said:

“Fragile roofs can and do kill. It does not matter how careful you are standing, sitting or walking on a fragile roof, the roof can collapse as it did in this case, causing potentially life-changing injuries.  This case also highlights the need for ELCI insurance in this sort of work where self-employed labourers under the control of a sole trader are ‘employees’ under Health and Safety Law.”

Most employers are required by the law to insure against liability for injury or disease to their employees arising out of their employment.  The Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 requires employers to have at least a minimum level of insurance against any such claims.  Employers’ liability insurance will cover relevant work injuries or illness whether these are caused on or off site. However, any injuries or illness relating to motor accidents which occur while employees are at work may be covered separately by the employer’s motor insurance.

Public liability insurance is different. It covers employers for claims made against them by members of the public or other businesses, but not for claims by employees. While public liability insurance is generally voluntary, employers’ liability insurance is compulsory. Employers can be fined if they do not hold a current employers’ liability insurance policy which complies with the law.  Employers must display a copy of this certificate where employees have reasonable access to it. If they do not, they can be fined.  Since 1 October 2008, employers have been allowed to satisfy this requirement by displaying the certificate electronically for example on the company’s intranet or website. If your employer chooses this method, they must ensure that you know how and where to find the certificate and you have reasonable access to it.

Falls from height are the most common cause of workplace fatalities accounting for 29 deaths in 2021/22. An operation at height requires careful planning and the use of suitable equipment.  A risk assessment should be undertaken as part of the planning and detail the controls required to ensure workers’ safety including any fall arrest systems to be used.  Any worker involved in an activity at height must be competent to carry out the task and be proficient in using the equipment provided.

If you require advice on health and safety in your workplace, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.

Working at height leads to prosecution

A steel fabrication company has been fined £8,000 after employees working at height fell two metres from the forks of a telehandler.

The workers of Eagle Structural Ltd were dismantling an unwanted shipping container at Great Carlton, Lincolnshire on 7 October 2019.

Operatives were working in an unsecured non-integrated working platform when it fell from the forks of a telehandler. One employee suffered a broken arm and fractured elbow and has been told that he will never regain a full range of movement in his arm. The second employee suffered internal bruising.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the non-integrated working platform was not compatible with the telehandler and that it had not been properly secured to prevent it falling.

fire safety in construction
Working at height requires careful planning (stock image)

Eagle Structural Ltd of Lincolnshire pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 8(b)(i) of The Work at Height Regulations 2005. At Lincoln Magistrates’ Court on 1 July 2022, the company was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,497.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector, Tim Nicholson said:

“This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

Working at height requires careful planning and the use of suitable equipment.  A risk assessment should be undertaken as part of the planning and detail the controls required to ensure workers’ safety.  Any worker involved in an activity at height must be competent to carry out the task and be proficient in using the equipment provided. 

If you require advice on health and safety in your workplace, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.