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Safety Tips for Working at Height

Date posted: 5 September 2013

Falls are a major cause of injury and fatalities, particularly serious head injuries. In fact ladders alone account for more than a quarter of all falls.

When you're working at height - in any situation where you could fall a distance that might cause injury, whether you're above or below ground - there are some simple measures you can take to dramatically reduce your risk of falling.

Planning the job

Well-planned DIY projects are far less likely to end with a trip to A&E. Assess the job and the equipment you will need to complete it safely - whether that includes finding ladders of the right length, platforms, or even scaffolding.  Hire the necessary tools if you need to rather than struggling with inadequate equipment – and seriously jeopardising your own safety.

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Here are some practical planning tips:

  • Many people carrying out DIY at height try to get away with using their own ladder rather than hire in longer ladders or platforms. Before you go ahead and do that, consider whether it is right for the job. Is it long enough to do the job safely? Is there a handhold available to enable you to maintain three points of contact wherever possible? Have you checked your ladder is in good working order?
  • Only plan to undertake simple DIY work, or tasks for which you have the necessary skills.
  • Have at least one other person present whenever you are working at height, whether it is to offer an extra pair of hands, or just to supervise, hold the ladder, or help if you do get into any difficulty.
  • Plan to complete as much of the job as possible from on the ground, if possible.
  • Make sure the ladder, platform or scaffolding you are using is stable and strong enough to support your weight – along with the weight of any tools or equipment you are taking up with you.
  • Make sure any edge protection is strong and wide enough to prevent you from falling.
  • Be extra careful if you are working on weak surfaces – aiming to prevent a fall, or at least minimise the drop if you should fall.
  • Make sure you have planned an easy way of getting to and from where you want to work.
  • If there is a chance that object could fall down onto you, make sure you are suitably protected with a hard hat.
  • Avoid working up a ladder yourself if you suffer from frequent dizzy spells, epilepsy, a fear of heights, a heart condition, or any other medical issues that could interfere with your ability to perform the task - including medication that warns you to avoid operating machinery.

Carrying out the work

Always check your equipment thoroughly before you start work. For example, ladder rungs should not be bent; the locking bars should be working properly; and the feet should not be worn or missing or the ladder could slip.
There are some key things to watch out for while you are carrying out the work – in order to help prevent falls.

Do not

  • Use a ladder or step ladder for 'heavy' work.
  • Use a ladder if you aren't able to keep three points of contact (hands and feet) at your working position. Use a more secure platform or scaffolding if this is the case.
  • Overload the ladder or platform you are using. Take into consideration your own weight (and that of anyone else helping you) as well as anything you are taking up with you, such as tools. The total weight must not exceed the highest load stated on the ladder or platform.
  • Overreach your ladder. You should easily be able to avoid doing this if you have planned properly and hired or bought a ladder of the correct height. Make sure both of your feet are on the same rung while you are working, and keep your midriff (e.g. trouser belt height)

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