The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Hierarchy of Control for Work at Height

Graham Marshall - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Working at height is one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries.

Falls from ladders and through fragile roofs are all too common.  

Work at height means work in any place, including at or below ground level, where a person could fall a distance liable to cause injury.

But employers and individuals can take simple, practical measures to reduce the risk of falling while working at height.

Employers must make sure that all work at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out by people who are competent.

This means workers need the skill, knowledge, and experience to work up high.

This must include the use of the right type of equipment for work at height.

To prevent or minimize risk when planning for work at height, consider what needs to be done and take a sensible, risk-based approach to identify suitable precautions.

At the Risk Tool Box, we promotes the use of the hierarchy of control to minimize the risk of a falling.

The hierarchy should be followed systematically and only when one level is not reasonably practicable should the next level be considered.

If at all possible, start out by avoiding work at height so as to eliminate the hazard.

If possible, work from the ground or partly from the ground.


If work at height cannot be avoided, use appropriately engineered equipment to minimize the risk of a fall occurring; the distance a person could fall; or the consequences of a fall if one occurs.

 Engineered controls include scaffolds, edge-protection, nets, soft landing systems, reach-poles, systems to lower objects (e.g. lights) to the ground, and measures that protect the individual.

Always make sure the surface/access equipment in use is stable and strong enough to support the worker’s weight and that of any equipment.

Also think about procedures and other "administrative" controls.

Can workers get safely to and from where they want to work at height?

Have you thought about emergency evacuation and rescue procedures?

Is the equipment used for work at height well maintained and inspected regularly?

And remember...

Don’t overload ladders;

Don't overreach on ladders or stepladders;

Don't use ladders or stepladders if the nature of the work is deemed to be ‘heavy’ or if the task will take longer than thirty minutes or so to complete;

Don't use ladders if workers cannot maintain three points of contact at the working position; and

Don't let anyone who is not competent (someone who doesn’t have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job) carry out work at height.

And lastly, consider the requirement for personal protective equipment.

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