Work at Height: Getting to Grips with Fall Protection Systems

Working at height in the commercial or construction sectors presents a high-risk working environment, where difficult access around a building, roof or construction could lead directly to a case of injury or death to the workforce. As such, work at height regulations have set a ‘hierarchy of risk control’, listing the approved type of safety equipment needed onsite for workers in their order of preference:

• Prevention

• Passive arrest

• Active arrest

• Mitigation of any consequences of an accident

Prevention systems and equipment take the highest preference as they help to prevent someone physically getting to an area where they could fall, such as over a roof edge or through a fragile surface. Prevention systems include: guardrails, which are typically used to protect a roof edge; barriers; purlin trolleys, a passive system used in roofing situations; and safety decking, positioned just below the working area to support a person and light tools. Work restraint systems can also be used to prevent the user getting to a hazardous place, as they can be adjusted and set to a fixed length.

Passive arrest systems do not require the worker to have to clip on or actively control the system as an active system would. Passive systems include fall arrest mats and safety nets. Fall arrest mats are either an air or soft-filled mat laid on the ground or suspended floor, beneath the working area. They help to cushion a fall to minimise the damage of low falls from height, of up to 2.5 metres. Safety nets are most commonly used for industrial purposes and framed works, for the same purpose.

Active arrest systems should be used when the above measures are not practical or in combination. Lower down in the hierarchy, active systems involve cable and track-based systems which minimise the impact force of a fall for a person and prevent them from hitting the ground. These systems are ‘personal fall arrest systems’ that allow for hands-free working, although rely on the user to carry out actions throughout the duration of the works.

Work positioning systems can be worn by those working at height, to allow for suspension and prevent or limit a fall. Rope access systems are frequently used for access to the sides of tall buildings, using a working rope and a backup safety rope, each secured to a reliable anchor. The user’s harness is attached to both ropes so that they can get to and from the work area with minimised risk.

PWC UK is a working-at-height service company specialising in providing a range of safe access solutions for the commercial and construction sectors. To find out more about safety at height, or to speak to us about your work at height requirements, please call us on 0344 257 1967 or email for a free, no obligation quote.

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