Rope access is without a doubt the safest way of working at height. We say this not only because specialised rope access equipment is incredibly reliable and efficient, but also because all workers in the industry are trained and certified according to standardised rules and regulations. If you’re dangling from tall buildings and cliffs on a daily basis, a good working knowledge of work at height regulations is essential.
Indeed, the best of the best in the industry have an exhaustive knowledge of such regulations, which goes a long way towards an in-depth awareness of their responsibilities and requirements on the job. As well as imparting practical knowledge about performing manoeuvres and rigging equipment, IRATA rope training courses always keep technicians up to speed on current legislation. But what exactly does this legislation say?
What is the legislation?
Here in the UK we adhere to the 2005 Work at Height Regulations, introduced by the Health and Safety Executive with a view to preventing workplace fatalities and injuries that result from falls. Generally speaking, any work where a fall would result in serious injury or death is considered work at height – this even applies to locations at or below ground level, such as storm drains. So these regulations don’t just apply to rope access work, but also work that uses scaffolding, forklifts and ladders. The regulations themselves are pretty general and all encompassing, and within the rope access industry they must be taught alongside more specific working practices.
The legislation applies mainly to those in control of work at height – employers, building owners, supervisors, contractors – as they hold a duty of care over the safety of individual employees. In the eyes of the law, it’s imperative that the safety of those working at height is completely accounted for. Let’s take a closer look at how employers provide such accountability.
The duties of employers
If there is one overarching principle imposed upon employers by the Work at Height Regulations, it’s that they should do everything possible to protect their employees from falling. Of course, this is a broad responsibility which involves a long list of more specific duties, but the general idea is very simple to grasp. Although understanding the exact details warrants reading the original legislation in full, here is a summary of those duties:
- Planning extensively before the work begins by establishing rescue and safety procedures, paying attention to the working conditions (e.g. bad weather or disruptions in the nearby environment), and identifying potential hazards such as falling objects or unstable surfaces.
- Judging the necessary precautions that need to be taken on the basis of the height and duration of the work, as well as the conditions of the surface on which the work is taking place.
- Taking measures to protect workers either as a team (e.g. by installing safety nets) or on an individual basis (e.g. by performing regular equipment checks) where necessary.
- Ensuring that employees are fully competent and trained enough for the work involved.
- Providing and checking equipment, ensuring that it’s in good condition and properly rigged.
What about employees?
Employees working at height should also pay attention to these regulations, but according to the legislation, their responsibilities are more general and minimal as they aren’t expected to assume responsibility for the safety of an entire team. Rather, they are legally obliged to protect themselves and others around them from harm whilst on the job. For instance, according to the law it is still the individual responsibility of employees to ensure that safety hazards are promptly reported and that safety equipment is always used in accordance with their training.
Even though the majority of the current legislation doesn’t apply directly to employees, it is still to the benefit of rope access technicians to read them through. It is not only important to understand how exactly your employers have got your back on the job, but also to get a feel for what kind of risks and precautions are associated with your line of work.
At Martin Castle Ltd we love to share our exhaustive knowledge of work at height regulations with those in the industry, both with our IRATA training courses and our specialised consultations. If you’re interested in learning about rope access in more depth than a single blog post could possibly provide, please feel free to get in touch with our team!