Simplified Construction Safety Instructions for Working at Height


The reform of health and safety regulations, that was launched by Government in 2013 as part of its Red Tape Challenge, has had one more effect at the beginning of 2014 with the launch of simpler guidance for employers and workers about working at height on building sites.

HSE has tried to explain in more straightforward English what one can do and cannot do on site. They have also challenged what they see as common myths that may confuse people.

Ex-fireman, now Health and Safety Minister, Mike Penning commented when introducing this initiative that he knew “that the 10 million people who are working at height in this country face risks in their job.” He added, “I’m also clear that managing these risks can be done sensibly, by giving simple and clear advice and tackling the myths that can confuse employers.

Judith Hackitt, HSE Chair, stressed that they had worked with businesses to make their guidance more simple and clear. They consulted with –

  • British Retail Consortium
  • Small Business Trade Association Forum
  • Trade Unions
  • Access Industry Forum

It is not clear from their press release whether construction safety consultants or building contractors were involved.

What myths did they debunk?

Ladders on building sites are banned

HSE says that you can use a ladder when other equipment is not justified as there is a low risk and you are working on one for under 30 minutes at a stretch: and also if the workplace or site has features that prevent other equipment being deployed.

You need to be qualified to use a ladder

  1. You just need to be competent to use a ladder properly for the work, or you can use it under supervision from someone who is competent. Training can be on-job: it doesn’t have to be in a classroom.

You are working at height if you walk up or down a staircase

No, it doesn’t include walking up and down a permanent staircase.

You must always have two feet and one hand on a stepladder

No, but when  you need both hands briefly to do a job you must maintain three points of contact. It could be two feet plus your knees or chest to help keep you stable, supported on the stepladder. A handhold needs to be there for steadying yourself before and after the task.

HSE has banned using ladders for accessing scaffolds and will fine you if you do

Ladders can be used if they are suitable industrial types, in good condition and tied down to prevent them moving. The ladder should extend one metre or more above the landing point to create a secure handhold at the top.

 Working at height in construction

The more specific new guidance issued for the construction industry needs to be studied by health & safety consultants and other practitioners in detail, but in essence HSE has “a hierarchy of controls” which are  –

  1. avoid
  2. prevent
  3. arrest

Avoid’ means – can the work be done safely on the ground? Maybe the method statement can be drawn up to avoid the work being carried out at height.

Prevent’ involves measures to stop accidents occurring by assessing the risks and taking precautions to plan safe access and prevent falls from happening.

Arrest’ means measures like fall restraints and safety netting, which HSE believes should only be used as a last resort.