Work at height: risks, regulatory framework and prevention

Work at height is the second cause of fatal accidents in the workplace (12% of deaths in 2015).

In order to offset this risk, a genuine prevention-oriented approach is required, based on risk assessment. Firstly, it is essential to set up collective protective equipment to protect the areas in which people circulate and the areas where work is being carried out. After that, appropriate equipment for working at height must be used.

Work at height

What are the risks related to work at height?

The main risk is falling from a height. The construction industry is most affected, because construction workers have to work on roof structures, pylons, platforms and scaffolding, for example.

However, there are other high-risk situations such as work in confined spaces and raised positions (ladders, stairs, walkways, etc.), work on pylons and other types of work equipment (scaffolding, tankers, etc.), work performed near ditches, excavated land or cliff edges.

What is the regulatory framework applicable to work at height?

The regulations do not provide a clear definition of work at height. According to the French decree of 11 January 1993 (Art. R. 4321 to R. 4323 of the French Labour Code), the site manager is responsible for putting in place adequate safety measures to protect employees:

  •     Risk analysis and assessment
  •     Provision of PPE (Personal Protectice Equipment)
  •     Checks and ongoing conformity
  •     Provision of conditions for use, maintenance and storage
  •     Informing the workers concerned: training and practice in the wearing of PPE
  •     Checks to ensure equipment is in proper working order, hygienic and fit for its purpose
  •     Periodic inspection of PPE and updating of safety records


List of European standards for fall protection PPE

EN 12841/C Rope access systems, rescue equipment
EN 353-1 Mobile fall arresters including a rigid anchor line
EN 353-2 Mobile fall arresters including a flexible anchor line
EN 354 Lanyards
EN 355 Energy absorbers
EN 358 Work positioning and fall restraint belts & work positioning lanyards
EN 360 Retractable type fall arresters
EN 361 Full body fall protection harnesses
EN 362 Connectors
EN 795 Anchor devices
EN 341 Descenders
EN 813 Sit harnesses
EN 363 Fall arrest systems

What are the objectives of a prevention-oriented approach to work performed at height?

To prevent falling from a height, we need to act both on the design of structures and equipment at the work station and on work methods.

Objectives for employers:

  •     Avoid risks
  •     Assess those risks that cannot be avoided
  •     Counteract risks at the source
  •     Adapt the work to the people
  •     Incorporate new techniques
  •     Replace dangerous elements by non-dangerous or less dangerous elements
  •     Plan the prevention strategy, integrating technical aspects, work organisation, labour relations and the influence of environmental factors into a coherent whole
  •     Set up collective protective measures as the number one priority, ahead of personal protective measures
  •     Give workers the right instructions

Objectives for employees:

  •     Look after their own health and safety and that of the other people concerned by their actions or omissions.
  •     Warn of any serious, imminent and unavoidable danger, stop what they are doing and get to a safe place

The rules to be followed when working at height are:

  •     Prevent a fall by circumventing the need to work at height
  •     Set up permanent (ladders, walkways and work platforms) or temporary (scaffolding, safety nets, suspended work platforms, etc.) collective protective equipment
  •     Provide Personal Protective Equipment (harnesses, anchor points, fall arrest systems, etc.)
Different types of work at height

How to prepare for work at height

  1.     Check that the equipment selected is fit for the purpose
  2.     Carry out an assessment to identify the most appropriate prevention means (including access means)
  3.     Check the accessibility and strength of the anchor points
  4.     Identify the anchor points
  5.     Anticipate the rescue measures to be taken in the event of a fall