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How to Increase Safety in Work at Height and Demonstrate Improved and Sustained Management Compliance

Many operational managers already take responsibility for work at height and so have a responsibility for compliance with various regulations, related to the planning and execution of that work.  There are many details to be considered when managing work at height and generally they are included in existing management processes, but there is one fundamental issue which is often over-looked and that is competence.

Regulation 5 of The Work at Height Regulations (2005) states that:
‘Every employer shall ensure that no person engages in any activity, including organisation, planning and supervision, in relation to work at height or work equipment for use in such work unless he is competent to do so…’

It is clear that managers must ensure any persons (staff or contractors) who undertake work at height must be competent to do so, but how can compliance with this legal duty be better managed?  Working safely at height can require a broad range of skills, knowledge and experience.  Whether or not a specific person has the right competencies, will vary from one work location to another, as risks and control measures will also vary.  This essentially means that competency to work at height safely is not a binary issue, it is more complex than being able to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

To improve the situation managers should initially undertake two fundamental steps:

* The competencies of all workers (staff and contractors) should be generally categorised and recorded according to the risks and equipment they are competent to work with. Additional competencies should also be recorded, such as the use of specific equipment.

*All potential work locations should be zoned according to building geometry, control measures and access intensity. The general and specific competencies required to work safely in each zone should be assessed and recorded within management processes.  Residual risks, such as rooflights and specific control measures such as type of anchorage system, should also be included.

Subsequently, before any work at height is undertaken, the manager responsible can check that the competencies required for work in each specific zone is matched by the competency of the specific workers planning to do the work.  The key to implementing this approach successfully is to keep the system as simple as possible, but also consistent with industry practices.

The Zoned Performance Specification (ZPS) approach prescribes four competency categories, these are:

* Beginner – No specific Work at Height competence

*  Basic – Competent to use simple access and protection systems, such as single attachment, non-adjustable,               work restraint systems

* Intermediate – Competent to use complex access, protection and rescue systems, including multiple attachment         and adjustable systems

* Advanced – Competent to use systems for maintaining stability or position, usually certified rope access                       technicians

The graphic below provides a simple illustration of these four categories



ZPS Work at Height Competency Ratings

A simple example of different work zones is shown in the sketch below, with colours used to highlight the general competency rating required to work safely in each zone.

Examples of Work at Height Zoning

Once workers’ competency ratings have been assessed and work zones clearly defined, clear signage should be installed at the access point to each zone.  An example of this signage is shown here, it also includes information regarding specific residual risks and mandatory control measures for the zone.

Such signage gives specific, clear, visual warnings and information for anyone entering the zone and can also include a QR code to provide access via smart phone to an on-line database with further information about the zone, such as rescue and evacuation procedures. Links to this database can also be included in tender documentation, to ensure that all potential contractors are fully aware, at the earliest possible stage, of the competencies and equipment required to work safely.


The implementation of the ZPS system for work at height will greatly improve the planning and preparedness for all such work.  This improves safety for those carrying-out the work and ensures that the management team responsible for the work are able to demonstrate a sustained compliance with their legal duties.


If you would like more information about working at height and/ or more information about implementing ZPS, then please contact the author.

About the author:

John Hynes, BEng(Hons) MSc(Eng), Director, Autumnal Services Limited


John has around 20 years’ experience in working at height with a broad range of responsibilities for manufacturers, distributors and contractors.  Autumnal Services was set-up to provide independent technical and commercial advice and support, primarily for end users and managers, on how to work better at height.


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