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Safeguard Magazine

DoL Report—Safety rules at any height

Proposed best practice guidelines to prevent falls from height will tackle the 3m misconception, says MAARTEN QUIVOOY.

Safety from falls has become an increasing focus of the work of the Department of Labour as this cause of workplace injury and death continues to feature all too prominently in our statistics.

In the first nine months of this financial year, the department was notified of 347 serious harm incidents involving falls from height, including six deaths. In 2008/09 there were 471 such notifications, including six deaths, and in 2007/08 453 notifications, including three deaths.

In May 2010 the department will issue a consultation document on best practice guidelines for the prevention of falls. The consultation will provide the opportunity for anyone associated with work being undertaken at height to have their say to contribute to reducing injuries from falls.

The final document will include a suite of publications about working at heights – for example, the best practice guidelines for scaffolding, demolition, industrial rope access, elevated work platforms and working on roofs.

Key aspects of the final document will be the clarification of misconceptions of the 3m height rule, and the provision of practical guidance and controls for working at heights both above and below 3m.

Regulation 21 of the Health and Safety in Employment Regulations 1995 states that, where an employee may fall more than 3m, suitable means must be provided to prevent the employee from falling. This regulation is often misinterpreted as it has been inferred that because there is a definitive benchmark for work over 3m, there is no requirement to provide protection for heights under 3m.

This is not necessarily true, because employers and associated parties are still required by law to take steps to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring. This means there is a requirement to first consider whether you can eliminate the hazard, or isolate a person from the hazard, before you consider and implement other minimisation controls. The sad reality is that the average fall from height where people are injured is only 2.7m.

It is most likely that failure to provide protection at heights less than 3m may mean employers and associated parties are failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of an employee. The consultation document will clarify the need for “all practicable steps” and a systematic hazard identification process for working at all heights.

The HSE Act requires hazards to be controlled in a specific hierarchy. If the hazard (potential fall) cannot be eliminated, then it must be isolated (where practicable) before considering minimisation controls.

Falls from height constitute a significant hazard. If minimisation steps only have been used, the department’s inspectors may ask duty holders to justify why an elimination or isolation method was not a practicable solution.

MAARTEN QUIVOOY is DoL group manager workplace services. All documents open for public consultation can be found at consultation. For any queries relating to guidance material please contact

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