There is a well known saying that says, “WHAT GOES UP, MUST COME DOWN” and this is generally true, however the challenge for businesses worldwide is to ensure that this is done safely while working at heights.

Statistics associated with accidents involving falls from height are shocking as they are the no 1 cause of workplace fatal accidents, with a large percentage of all injuries associated with falls from below 2m, dispelling the myth that the “higher you go, the greater the risk. In Singapore where standards for safety are very high the number of incidents  still continue to grow inspite of the measures put by the Ministry of Manpower, Singapore. According  to the latest Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) report by the WSH Council and Manpower Ministry. Sixty one fatalities were registered in 2011, compared to 55 in 2010 — an increase 10.9 per cent. Four in 10 fatalities involved slips, trips and falls from heights.

Workplaces lost more productive hours, with a six per cent increase, or 565,275 man—days lost, due to work incidents, up from 532,769 in 2010.Overall, work injuries in 2011 fell by 1.9 per cent, while permanent disablement cases registered a drop of 11 per cent.

The workplace fatality rate inched up slightly to 2.3 per 100,000 employed persons, compared to 2.2 in 2010. This provides the dangers of working at heights and the risks involved. Of the 38 deaths reported till Sep 2010, 16 were falls from heights.

The definition of work at height is very close to as the risk of falling from height from a roof, ladder or scaffold whilst undertaking work, people are also at risk from falls at work in any place from which a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury; this includes access to and egress from work at height (using a ladder to access a roof), work at or below ground level (adjacent to an excavation with a risk of falling into the void) and dangers of falling through fragile materials.

Additionally, if you stand on a table to change a light bulb in an office or home, this would also constitute work at height because a fall could cause injury!

Work at height should be properly planned and supervised and not carried out if weather conditions jeopardize health and safety – ALWAYS!

The first step would be always to eliminate the hazard , followed by substitutions, engineering controls and administrative. The final step would be fall arrest and that’s the last thing always!! For ex –

a)The employer should avoid work at height where practicable; an example of this is the using scissor lifts or boom lifts to clean windows from the safety of the ground rather than climbing ladder to wash by hand

b)The employer should then consider ways to prevent falls; the use of an existing place or means of access should be considered as well as using the most suitable way of working and selection of the most suitable equipment

c)As a last resort, the employer should minimize the distance and consequences of any falls by providing suitable fall protection equipment for working at height.

The following are examples of actual fall from height accidents including the circumstances surrounding the incident. In all cases, the employers received substantial criminal and/or civil action against them for their failure to ensure safe working at height.

Worker Fell while Plastering External Wall of Air Conditioning Ledge

In this incident, a worker was found dead on the ground besides a high rise building under construction.

The worker was found with a restraint belt strapped around his waist. Before the incident, the worker was carrying out plastering work on the external wall of an air conditioning ledge on the 9th floor of the building. At the other floors, the open sides of the air conditioning ledges were guarded with cable barricades. However on the 9th floor, where the deceased worker was working, no barricade was present.

 Worker Fell to Death from Height at Ventilation / Air-Condition Ducting

A worker fell to death while working at the ventilation / air-conditions ducting areas at their respective workplaces. 2 workers were tasked to cover up a 1.5m (diameter) opening after one section of the ventilation duct was dismantled at the accommodation deck of a vessel. One worker lost his balance and fell into the opening. He landed at the bottom of the ventilation duct which was 14m below the opening.

 So now let’s look at ways to proper working at heights – Avoiding work at height where possible

There are various ways that the employer can approach this matter and the first consideration should be “do we really have to work at height?” An example of avoiding work at height during a construction operation could be the fixing of edge protection, erecting barriers and other such preventative measures to steel structures prior to them being lifted into place at height; this way the protection will be in place should people have to access such areas at a later date and reduce the risk to workers.

  Preventing falls

The employer must consider ways to prevent falls from height as the next consideration in the hierarchy if Work at Height is required and unavoidable. The employer should select physical means of preventing falls such as guardrails/working platforms before personal fall prevention (e.g. work restraint).

  Understanding Fall Clearances

Where the avoidance and the provision of means to prevent a fall are not practicable and the risk of a fall cannot be completely eliminated, the employer should consider the use of work equipment or other measures to mitigate the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur. Such equipment could include the use of safety nets, soft landing systems such as airbags and personal fall arrest equipment.

It is critical to recognize that whatever system of protection is adopted, the employer must ensure that all employees using such equipment are correctly trained in the application of the selected system and ensure that refresher training is carried out as appropriate. Manufacturers of all available systems have a responsibility for producing a safe system of work for the product they sell.

  Equipment Selection and Training

The employer should ensure that the correct equipment for the working conditions is selected. Considerations in this process should include available access and egress for people and equipment, the distance and consequences of any potential fall, the duration of the work activity and the frequency of the task, the ease of any rescue or evacuation that may be required and any associated risk of use, installation and removal of such equipment. It’s also important that people using this equipment are properly trained and certified. Training prevents accidents largely as the user is able to do the job with the right approach and with the right equipment’s

 Equipment to be considered

For work at heights a wide variety of personal fall protection systems is available and these include full body harness with CE or ANSI Standards, Shock Absorbing Lanyards ,Self Retracting Lifeline/ Blocks, Horizontal Lifelines, Vertical Lifelines and many other products. It should be reiterated that personal fall restraint or fall arrest systems should be used by person who are properly trained and understand the use of such products to work safely at height. Avoid using cheap products

 Other Issues to consider

While working on heights for example on roofs it important that fragile surfaces to be identified and avoided to prevent falls. Preventative measures would be to include HLL systems, roof ladders, gutter protection, safety nets and workers with full body safety harnesses with lanyards or portable blocks.  Supervision is the key to see that no one working  goes onto or near a fragile surface unless that is the only reasonably practicable way for the worker to carry out the work safely, having regard to the demands of the task, equipment, or working environment. Avoid working in the nights especially for roofs!!!

Preventing falling objects is also critical to avoid any risk to people working below or adjacent to the area if tools and materials are not properly secured and controlled.

Preventative measures can include edge protection, netting, toe boards, fan protection, and good housekeeping practices. Ensure that nothing is thrown or tipped from height or stored in such a way that its movement is likely to injure anyone.

If the workplace contains an area in which there is a risk of someone being struck by a falling object or person,  ensure that the area is clearly indicated and no unauthorized people are unable to gain access to it without work permits.


The employer should ensure that no work is done at height unless it is reasonably practicable to do it other than at height; work must be properly planned, appropriately supervised, and carried out in as safe a way as is reasonably practicable; with plans made for emergencies and rescue in the event of an emergency.


The employer should ensure that the work is postponed when weather conditions endanger Health or Safety of personnel.


Everyone involved in the work must be competent to undertake the task and have received the proper prescribed training, where required. Training should be done in-house or through certified training providers. Training should involve all aspects for safe working at heights and rescue.

 Job Site

The place where work is done at height (including the means of access) must be safe and all measures to prevent a fall must be in place before the work commencement.

Equipment, temporary structures, and safety features

When selecting equipment for work at height the employer must use the most suitable equipment to give collective protection measures (e.g. guard rails) priority over personal protection measures (e.g. safety harnesses) and must take account of the working conditions, the risks to the safety of all those at the place where the work equipment is to be used and must ensure that all equipment, temporary structures (e.g. scaffolding), and safety features comply with current international standards, where applicable.


All work equipment that is used for work at height needs to be inspected, after it is assembled before first use and at suitable intervals to check that no deterioration has taken place. If the equipment is used fails inspection tests, it should be immediately removed from service and records of dismissal should be maintained for 3 years (minimum) or as per the HSE program of the organization. Inspection means visual and detailed inspections and should be carried only by a competent and trained person.

All inspections should be recorded and records maintained along with details of any remedial work undertaken as a result of the inspection.

 Finally ……..

The employer should ensure;

a)all work at height is properly planned and organized.

b)all work at height takes account of any weather conditions that could endanger health and safety.

c)those involved in work at height are trained and competent.

d)the place where work at height is done is safe.

e)equipment for work at height is appropriately inspected.

f)risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled.

g)risks from falling objects are properly controlled.

 Stay Safe!!!!

About the Author-

Santosh K is General Manager – India for Capital Safety Group, responsible for business operations in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. He also manages the wind segment business for Asia markets.  Capital Safety is the world leading designer of fall protection and height safety equipment’s.

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