Working at height
20th December 2016

Roofer Risks His Life Balancing on Scaffolding 90 foot in the Air

A Preston roofer has been given a suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to one charge of contravening a health and safety regulation. The Manchester Evening News reports that district judge Nicholas Sanders said David Mulholland was “breathtakingly stupid” and “it defies description that you should be doing what you were doing without any protective measures” after he was photographed balancing on scaffolding nearly 90ft in the air at a Manchester work site.

Office workers in a nearby building took the photo and contacted the HSE who rushed to the site. Inspector Matt Greenly from the HSE said “Never before in my career as an HSE investigator have I seen such a staggering disregard for personal safety as is demonstrated by the photograph of Mr Mulholland balancing on scaffold tubes in the rain. It is a matter of pure luck that no-one was injured or killed by working at height in the manner seen in this image.”

Working at heights is one of the leading causes of fatalities associated with the workplace. In 2015/2016 the HSE reported that there were 144 fatalities associated with falls from height.

Danny Clarke, Operations Director for the ELAS Group, says: “I agree with the district judge in that this action was breathtakingly stupid, to say the least. Not only has Mr Mulholland put himself at risk, he has also risked the lives of others. Working at height is a dangerous activity and should only be undertaken after considering alternative options and the risks associated with the task.”

You are deemed to be working at height if you:

  • Work above ground/floor level
  • Could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface
  • Could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground

The Work at Height Regulations apply if:

  • You’re an employer
  • You control work at height e.g. building owner, facilities manager

Duty holders must ensure that:

  • All work at height is properly planned, organised and supervised
  • Work is carried out in a manner which is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe
  • Those involved in work at height are competent
  • Risks are assessed and appropriate work equipment selected and used
  • Objects are prevented from falling and, as necessary, areas below are adequately protected or access restricted
  • Risks from fragile surfaces are avoided or, if necessary, properly controlled
  • Equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained
  • There is planning for emergencies and rescue

If you are an employer or working under someone else’s control, you must:

  • Report any safety hazard to them
  • Use the equipment supplied (including safety devices) properly following any training, unless you think that would be unsafe in which case you should seek further instructions before continuing

Examples of working at height:

  • Working on a scaffold or MEW
  • Working on the back of a lorry
  • Using cradles or ropes to gain access
  • Climbing permanent structures such as gantries
  • Working close to excavations, cellars or other openings
  • Staging or trestles e.g. concerts, filmings etc.

The following are not classed as working at height:

  • Activities carried out by private individuals, even if they are using equipment from work
  • Trips and slips on the level surface
  • Falls on permanent stairways, unless under structural maintenance
  • Working in a building e.g. office with multiple floors where there is no risk of falling (except if the staff use a stepladder to change the bulbs within the office)


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