Working at Heights
Working at height is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as working in any place where, if precautions are not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.

It remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and injuries globally.1

Examples of working at height include:

  • Work above ground / floor level

  • Work where the individual could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface

  • Work where the individual could fall from ground level into an opening in the floor (a hole in the ground) IOSH

It is important to note that working at height does not include a slip or trip on a level surface, as a fall from height has to involve falling from one level to a lower level. Equally, walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building does not constitute working at height.

Ever-present danger

Given the recent investment and construction activities in the Middle East, working at height is a key part of many roles and sectors in the UAE and GCC region. In Abu Dhabi, falls from height and falling objects are the leading cause of fatal injuries on worksites, responsible for almost 50 per cent of fatal injuries2 .

It is easy to think that this is only a risk on construction sites, but the danger is also present in the agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors, meaning working at height is an everyday reality for many. However, in this article we will focus on the risks in the construction industry.

With so much new development in the region, the risks of falls from height are ever-present and must be taken account of. A great example of the large-scale construction activity which is taking place, is the development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of Jubail II Industrial Area – the world’s largest civil engineering project.

What the law says

In the Middle East, occupational health and safety is regulated through the use of various codes of practice, standards, municipal regulations and technical guidelines. Abu Dhabi EHS Centre, for example, has published a specific regulation on working at height: the Abu Dhabi Environment, Health and Safety Management System (ADEHSMS) Code of Practice number 233 , which has jurisdiction within the Abu Dhabi Emirate. Other jurisdictions will have similar laws and will often adopt existing industry guidance. For example, the ILO guidance has a direct read though to best practice guidance from the United Kingdom’s (UK) Health and Safety Executive (HSE).4

So, there is agreement that when considering working at height, there are three simple rules to follow:

  1. Avoid – If you do not need to work at height, then don’t.

  2. Prevent – If work at height cannot be avoided, then prevent falls by selecting and using the right access equipment.

  3. Minimise – Where you cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other means to lessen the distance and consequences of a fall.

Selecting equipment

If working at height is unavoidable, there are mitigation measures to consider. When selecting these, collective measures should be selected if possible before personal protection measures.

When selecting equipment for work at height, employers must:
  • Provide the most suitable equipment appropriate for the work
  • Take account of factors, such as: the working conditions (e.g. weather), the nature, frequency and duration of the work, and the risks to the safety of everyone where the work equipment will be used

Some of the options are outlined in the following sections: mobile elevating working platforms, scaffolding, rope access, fall arrest, restraint or protection, and ladders.

Mobile elevating working platforms (MEWPs)

It is worth noting that the most significant MEWP dangers arise from the operation and use of the machine rather than from their movement as a site vehicle.

Most fatal and serious injuries involving MEWPs arise from:

  • Entrapment – there is a risk of operators becoming trapped between part of the basket and fixed structures or becoming trapped against the platform controls. In the latter case, they may not be able to stop the machine from running

  • Overturning – this could cause the operator to be thrown from the basket

  • Falling – the operator could fall from the basket during their work activities

  • Collision – which could occur with pedestrians, overhead cables or nearby vehicles.

When selecting MEWPs as a method for working at height, you should ensure that a risk assessment and suitable control measures are put in place.

These control measures include:

  • Selecting a MEWP which has been designed to prevent accidental contact with overhead structures and ensuring that operators are briefed on the dangers and the safe system of work which they are to follow

  • Selecting a MEWP which has shrouding or other protection around the controls

  • Making sure the platform is kept tidy to reduce the risk of the operator tripping or losing balance

  • Ensuring that the MEWP is used on firm and level ground and avoiding certain ground features such as trenches, manholes and un-compacted backfill, which can lead to the MEWP overturning

  • The use of outriggers that are extended and choked before raising the platform

  • Ensuring that effective guardrails and toeboards are fitted to the work platform

  • The use of fall arrest systems – if there is still a risk of people falling from the platform, a harness with a short work restraint lanyard must be secured to a suitable manufacturer provided anchorage point within the basket to stop the wearer from getting into a position where they could fall from the basket

  • Making sure the area around the platform has barriers to prevent people from being struck by falling objects

  • Keeping an eye on the weather – high winds can tilt platforms and make them unstable and storms and snowfall can also damage the platform – you should make sure you inspect the platform before use following severe weather conditions

  • Checking the weight and dimensions of any materials that you are using the MEWP to install – consider using additional lifting equipment to transport materials to the work position if they would pose a risk to the safe operation of the MEWP

  • Considering what is happening in the vicinity of the work operation area – think about overhead cables, other dangerous machinery and traffic routes

You should also ensure that MEWP operators have attended a recognised operator training course and can demonstrate this with a certificate, card or licence. Additionally, you should make sure that the operator is familiar with the controls and operation of the specific MEWP they will be using.

Finally, you should ensure that daily visual checks, regular inspections and servicing schedules are established in line with the manufacturers’ instructions. These examinations should include, as a minimum, a six-monthly inspection by a competent person or in line with an examination scheme which has been written by a competent person.

A good place for recognised industry guidance on MEWPs is the International Powered Access Federation, who offer training and guidance on their correct use.5