Revised work at height guidance

Employers who have struggled with the overly prescriptive and burdensome existing guidance to the Work at Height Regulations 2005 may feel a note of optimism.  Following recommendations from Professor Loftstedt that the guidance for the Regulations required simplification, the HSE has issued updated guidance aimed at simplifying the position under the umbrella of the government’s “red tape challenge”.

There is no single Approved Code of Practice to the Regulations, so the new guidance is enshrined in several sources, including:

A number of helpful points are recognised in this guidance, most particularly:

  • There are many situations where a ladder is the most suitable equipment for working at height (ie low risk and short duration work, meaning work lasting less than 30 minutes).
  • There will be some low-risk situations in which the law recognises the “common sense” position that no particular precautions are necessary.
  • The fact that training often takes place on the job, rather than a classroom, and the fact that competence requirements may be no more than making sure employees receive instruction on how to use the equipment safely, in addition to training.

These points are likely to be received very positively by employers who, in our experience, have been faced with criticism, and even prosecution, in circumstances where on the job training, common sense determinations of risk and particularly the use of ladders for routine short duration tasks have been the subject of specific criticism.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 have not been amended, so there is still a hierarchical approach to how work should be performed, namely avoiding work at height, minimising the risk of a fall occurring (i.e. edge protection), minimising the distance and consequences of a fall (i.e. collective measures such as air bags, or a Mobile Elevated Working Platform and Fall Arrest systems) and finally by minimising the distance of the fall (i.e. Fall Arrest systems).  So whilst a ladder can be used a determination still needs to be made of the risk involved, so just because work is short duration does not mean it is safe to do, it must also be low risk.

It is also worth remembering that falls remain one of the biggest causes of death and serious injury at work and will remain a high priority for enforcement action.  This and other guidance can be cited by HSE Inspectors, or Local Authority Environmental Health Officers, to criticise any business which does not follow best practices.  Even if a prosecution does not result from a perceived breach under the Fee For Intervention scheme, a business can be liable to pay the HSE’s investigation costs for issues they consider to be “material breaches” of the law.

Nevertheless this guidance represents positive news for industry, and strengthens the growing trend of reducing the need for unnecessary documents, such as external training records for simple ladder uses, in favour of recognising that employer’s own understanding of their business and its needs and risks should play a part.


This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.