5 Common Work at Height Myths Debunked

Misconceptions about working at height are dangerous. They give workers false confidence and will persist if they aren’t tackled head on with training and the right information. Debunking myths ensures your team is fully prepared for their work at height task.

Myth 1: Work at height always takes place a long way up

How high must a worker go to be ‘working at height’? Perhaps not as high as you think. In fact, there isn’t a minimum level for a task to qualify as working at height. Rather, ‘working at height’ reflects the potential risk that, without taking further precautions, a person could fall a distance that could result in an injury.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says you are working at height if you:

  • work above ground/floor level
  • could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or
  • could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground

The HSE further clarifies that work at height ‘does not include a slip or a trip on the level, as a fall from height has to involve a fall from one level to a lower level, nor does it include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building.’


Myth 2: It’s the workers responsibility to stay safe

While it’s true employees must be diligent in their work to remain safe, under the Work at Height Regulations 2005, it’s the duty of employers to control any work at height activity to keep their workforce safe.

As part of the Regulations, you must ensure:

  • all work at height is properly planned and organised
  • those involved in work at height are competent
  • the risks from work at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used
  • the risks of working on or near fragile surfaces are properly managed
  • the equipment used for work at height is properly inspected and maintained

For more information, see: The Work at Height Regulations 2005.


Myth 3: Ladders are banned

Ladders are not always a safe option, particularly for longer jobs. However, the myth that ladders and stepladders are no longer allowed to be used on-site isn’t true. Ladders and stepladders can safely be part of your work at height strategy and are often a sensible and practical option. Conduct a thorough risk assessment to fully understand the hazards involved and decide if a ladder will be appropriate.

Ladders can be a safe option for tasks with low risk and short duration (no more than 30 minutes) and where other equipment isn’t justified. Ladders may also be appropriate when there are existing workplace or site features which cannot be altered, ruling out other height safety strategies.

Ladders can also be used for access to scaffolding if they are a suitable industrial grade, in good condition and securely attached. Make sure access ladders extend at least one metre above the landing point to allow for a secure handhold when stepping off.

Former HSE Chief Executive Geoffrey Podger said:

“Let me be clear, ladders are not banned, and HSE has been saying this since 2005. Despite that, HSE’s Infoline still gets regular calls asking whether ladders are banned… There will be circumstances when a risk assessment concludes that a ladder is not the right sort of access equipment for a particular job, but this is not the same as saying ladders are banned.”


Myth 4: You must be formally qualified to use a ladder

Workers using ladders must be ‘competent’, however it is not necessary to have a formal qualification. The HSE defines ‘competent’ as having the required skills, knowledge and experience to use a ladder properly in a safe manner. This may mean training is needed, but it doesn’t have to be a formal qualification.

Remember, height safety training often takes place on the job and doesn’t always have to take place in a classroom.


Myth 5: Seeing a CE stamp means equipment is safe to use

Checking for a CE stamp is a good first step to ensure equipment has been tested to industry standards. However, these standards are a minimum baseline and just the starter to ensure your equipment is up to scratch. Work with a dedicated and trusted supplier who will guarantee performance, durability and comfort for all PFPE and equipment.

Beyond CE marks and standards, you also need to make sure you select the right tool for the job and carry out equipment checks. All equipment should be carefully inspected before every use to ensure it’s in good working order. As well as pre-use inspections, height safety gear should be subject to a more detailed inspection schedule. This should be at least every 12 months, but may need to be more frequent for equipment which gets heavy usage.


Ready to upgrade your height safety equipment and training? Talk to one of the HITEGEAR gear team today on 0333 234 1801