The simple and obvious answer is to ‘be safe’. Apart from the risk management considerations applicable to any task, be it at height or at ground level, the most important risk to manage is that of falling from a work position; how it might happen, when it might happen and who will be affected.
Employers are responsible to carrying out risk assessments that must cover all aspects of working at height and any employee tasked with such work must have sight of these risk assessments and be aware of the controls their employer has put in place to eliminate or reduce the risks, how they work and why they are there. There should be discussion between everyone concerned with the work at height to be undertaken to ensure all the risks have been captured and addressed and that everyone knows what they should be doing and how they should be doing it in a safest way possible.
In short, any work at height should be as minimal as possible, carried out by correctly trained employees who have been provided with the health and safety knowledge they need including an adequate perception of risk and a good situational awareness, plus of course the skills to carry out the task. Safe working at height should arise out of an employer’s legal duty to ensure a safe workplace and as far as reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare of his employees. Compliance with the pertinent regulations mixed together with extensive working at height guidance from the Health and Safety Executive and knowledgeable trade bodies, in-depth professional knowledge and a healthy dose of common sense should ensure the safety of the employees.
There is a pretty well fool proof hierarchy of risk control established for working at height, which means that the employer who fully engages with their legal duty of care to keep their employees safe shouldn’t ever have to put their employees at unnecessary risk. It basically states:
1) Carry out the work from the ground whenever possible, but if not possible…
2) Design in permanent access with anchor point and lifelines and provide the necessary ladders, work platforms, crawler boards and scaffolding. If that doesn’t address all the risks of falling…
3) Provide universal protection in the form of safety netting, edge guards, inflatable bags and hole covers (where necessary) as well. If all of that doesn’t address all the risks of falling or it isn’t practical to implement…
4) Provide personal protective equipment to each worker, such as ropes, harnesses, fall arrest systems, lanyards or boatswains chairs.
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