Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. In fact, in 2020-21, 35 people in Great Britain died as a result of falls from height (accounting for 25% of all worker deaths over the year) and falls from height accounted for 8% of employee reported non-fatal injuries in 2020-21. It is therefore vital that employers, and those who control any work at height activity, comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
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. The most common causes of accidents when working at height include falls from roofs, through fragile roofs and fragile roof lights. In order to comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005, employers and those in control of work at height activity must ensure work is properly planned, adequately supervised and carried out in a manner which, is so far as is reasonably practicable, safe. Employers must also ensure that only competent people who have, for example, been provided with sufficient instructions and training, undertake work at height.
The extent of the measures that need to be in place depends on how high or low risk the activity is. With that in mind, employers should undertake a thorough risk assessment prior to commencement of any task involving work at height and ensure a safe system of work is in place. Importantly, care needs to be taken to select the correct type of equipment for working at height and the work at height hierarchy should be complied with.
Unsurprisingly, failure to comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 can lead to a HSE prosecution as well as civil litigation. A recent case in Llandudno Magistrates' Court saw a micro company being fined £40,000 for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 when a man fell from a ladder and suffered serious injuries. Although work at height was not one of the company's core activities, the Judge held that the company did not have a suitable or sufficient risk assessment in place for the task the injured party was undertaking and did not provide proper instructions with regard to working at height.
In more serious cases involving fatalities, prosecutions for Corporate Manslaughter against organisations and Gross Negligence Manslaughter against company directors may be pursued. For example, a recent manslaughter trial before Brighton Crown Court, which concerned a roofer who sustained fatal injuries having fell two storeys from a ladder, reiterated the importance of providing suitable work at height equipment, including scaffolding or barriers to protect those working at a height.
It is therefore important that all businesses, big or small, think twice before asking an employee to work at height. It is often ad hoc work at height tasks or makeshift solutions to issues encountered whilst working at height that leave employees at risk of being injured and employers vulnerable to prosecution.