Working at Height: 5 Myths that are Simply Not True

Working At Height Myths Horizon Platforms

Here at Horizon Platforms, we know working at height can pose significant health and safety risks. The competent use of MEWPs can minimise these risks, yet prevalent myths surrounding work at height can prove both problematic and dangerous. This includes misconceptions about procedures and equipment, and the spreading of such incorrect information may put workers at further risk. 

Everyone has the right to work in a safe environment and we put this belief at the heart of our access hire equipment business. As such, this blog post will discuss and dispel some of the most common myths about working at height. While some may seem trivial or innocuous, it is vital to ensure that all staff are in possession of the facts in order to reduce risk and create a safe workplace. 

I will be working at a low height, so protection is unnecessary

Many people underestimate risk when working at low height, something that can be detrimental and lead to serious injury. This myth may have arisen from misunderstanding what constitutes work-at-height, with many thinking that tasks must be completed from a roof or piece of equipment such as scaffolding, a ladder, an access platform, etc. to qualify. However, work at height is defined by the HSE as ‘work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury’ – contrary to popular belief, this includes work at or below ground level.

When any person is carrying out work where the risk of falling is liable to cause injury, the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR) require that an employer must assess, plan and ensure work is properly supervised, in order to minimise the risk of falling. Taking these steps is essential to improving workplace safety, as the majority of falls from height occur when working at relatively short distances from the ground. In short, protective measures are required for all heights, no matter how minimal the distance may seem. 

The task is quick, I can go without protection

There is a long-held myth that working at height only requires protection when the task will be completed over a longer duration. This is both dangerous and untrue, as whether the job will take one minute or one month, steps must always be taken to reduce risk and ensure safety when working at height. Additionally, there is no minimum time stated in the WAHR and therefore protective measures and equipment that can minimise risk, such as MEWPs, must be utilised throughout. 

Before work can commence, an employer must put the correct protective measures into place – this is a two-fold process that includes collective equipment, such as guardrails, and personal protective equipment (PPE), like safety harnesses. Furthermore, a full risk assessment must be completed, a rescue plan prepared and workers must be fully competent. These are legal requirements in accordance with the WAHR and must be followed regardless of task duration.

I must be qualified before using a ladder

From the construction industry to warehousing, there is a common misconception that an individual must complete a formal qualification to use a ladder. As outlined in the HSE’s Safe Use of Ladders and Stepladders, this myth is untrue. However, this guide does state that individuals must be competent, meaning they must have received adequate instruction and possess the knowledge required to use the equipment safely.

In addition to procedural failings, falls from height often occur due to a lack of training, understanding and experience. In the case of ladder usage, training can usually be carried out on the job, under the supervision of another competent individual. Additionally, a ladder should always be checked before use. This includes ensuring there is no damage or wear to the feet, stiles, platform, steps or locking mechanisms.

There is no need to inspect my equipment all the time

Whether work at height involves a ladder, PPE or a MEWP, equipment must be inspected before every use to ensure it is fit for purpose. This should include visual and functional checks to highlight any damage or deterioration, and should be in line with manufacturer guidelines – IPAF have created a pre-use inspection checklist for access platforms. If there are any issues with the equipment, it should be reported and not used until it has been examined by a trained specialist.

In addition to pre-use inspections, there are also guidelines that determine how often equipment must be inspected. For MEWPs, this includes the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER), which state that an access platform must be thoroughly examined every six months, or sooner if there are circumstances which could impact the safety of the equipment, such as a collision or overturn. 

Inspections of PPE, including safety harness inspections, must comply with BS EN 365:2004 and BS 8437:2005. The former states that equipment must be inspected at least every 12 months, while the latter recommends 6 months or less where the equipment has been exposed to more taxing environments, such as adverse weather and demolition work.

Protection costs too much and the business can save without it

Protective equipment is an investment in your business and employees. Taking the appropriate collective and personal protective measures can assist in the prevention of accidents, falls and injuries. This includes investing in employee training – our training centres are IPAF accredited – and selecting the best work at height access equipment for the task.

These proactive steps are essential when working at height in order to meet WAHR. Furthermore, failure to comply with the law could result in large costs from compensation and fines, as well as the potential of loss earnings from subsequent damage to business reputation. As such, investing in workforce safety must always be a key priority.

What other work at height myths have you encountered? We would love to know. Tell our team on LinkedIn or Facebook.

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