The Working at Height mistakes that will cost your company | EEF

The Working at Height mistakes that will cost your company

Subscribe to Business Support blog feeds


Fifty workers die working at height each year in the UK. A further 8,702 working at height injuries occur each year. What are the mistakes these companies are making? What training, equipment, or policies are health and safety managers not using that could prevent these tragedies?

Our HSCE briefings taking place around the UK in November will update HR and HSCE managers on the newest legislation, case law, and best practices in H&S, including working at height. Here is a preview of a few of the common work at height mistakes (and potential costs) our experts will discuss:

Ladders and step ladders

Common mobile equipment such as ladders and step ladders are often overlooked in policies and maintenance programs. Did you know employers must be able to produce records of inspection for ladders or risk a fine? Tweet this

Common mistakes often start with forgetting the basics, don't forget to use your maintained ladders safely with some best practice policies, such as

  • Tie the ladder to firm anchoring points

  • Set the ladder at 75o

  • Don’t use the top three rungs of the ladder

(EEF members signed up for our health and safety services can access our complete set of H&S resources, including in-depth work at height guidance, including use of ladders and step ladders.)

Dangerous conditions

Policies and strategies that create a safe work environment in some conditions, may not work in others. For example, a safety harness may suffice for workers on a typical roof. However, if that roof has fragile conditions, such as one with asbestos, other work at height measures will be necessary. In fact, a quarter of all workers killed during work at height involve falls through fragile materials, such as roof lights and asbestos cement roofing sheets.

This was the mistake made by Scotland’s Gray & Adams Limited who were prosecuted after their employee fractured his hand when he fell through a roof made of asbestos. The company pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 6(3) of The Working at Height Regulations 2005 and were fined £5,300. The finds following the ruling were:

  • Precautions for working on fragile surfaces should have been taken by the company

  • The risk assessment Gray & Adams had in place for working on roofs included the control measure “wear safety harness” however this building roof had no system in place or any means for attaching a harness. The use of ‘crawling boards’ was not suitable or sufficient.

Following this incident a new risk assessment for roof work was carried out by the company and this identified the need to investigate further fall protection measures.


Lack of training

Too many companies rely on cursory or non-expert led training when it comes to health and safety. A dedicated training program by a qualified H&S training provider is required to safeguard employees and their company.

For example, in June 2015, an employee of Essex injection moulding firm fell from the top of a hopper machine he was cleaning. He fell 1.2 metres from the mobile steps and fractured his elbow, forearm, and eye socket, which required a five-week hospital stay and his elbow to be plated.

There are a few lessons uncovered by the investigation, which led to a fine of £3000 with £1926 costs:

  • The employee had not received proper training for working at height.

  • This work at height was not appropriately supervised.

  • The mobile steps were not suitable for this work. (Whenever possible, permanent means of accessing heights should be provided, rather than temporary ones requiring proper use at the discretion of the individual employee.)

Emergency plan

Even with the best laid plans and equipment, working at height is dangerous. If the need for the work is unavoidable, any H&S policy must include an emergency plan in the case of a work at height accident. How should employees respond to an emergency? Who is responsible for contacting emergency services? Who is qualified to provide immediate assistance to the individual? How is work stopped? What are the stop work and evacuation procedures?


These are just a few of the costly work at height mistakes that companies can avoid. For practical ideas on how to eliminate these problems, see Top 5 work at height policies.


Health, Safety, Climate and Environment Area Lead

Other articles from this author >
training Register for our HSCE briefings

Find out how the newest HSCE best practices and legislation impacts you

Read more >
Online payments are not supported by your browser. Please choose an alternative browser or make payments through the 'Other payment options' on step 3.