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Working at Height in Construction

By Get Indemnity™ & QBE Insurance


Falling from height is the number one cause of fatal injuries to workers accounting for 25% of all fatalities

60% of the fall from height fatalities and 30% of major injuries occurred within the construction industry. This equates to 35 fatalities and 938 major injuries, due to falling from height in the construction industry in 2019/20.

The construction industry has inherent risks from tasks such as roof work, scaffolding and use of ladders and it is these agents that account for the largest proportion of all work at height fatalities.

Across all industries the main cause for major injuries are ladders, followed by vehicles and plant. Falls from height are often perceived as “high level falls”, but it’s surprising that +75% of the major injures are attributable to falls less than two metres. 

Falls from height on insurance costs

The impact of falls from height on insurance costs can be incredibly high. For example, a young person who is rendered quadriplegic from a fall could be plus £10 million pounds.

As can be expected the severity of falls from height is more significant than other workplace accidents. Excluding their largest losses QBE Insurance has observed the average cost of a fall from height claim is circa £15,000. 

Indirect costs such as penalties, loss of bonuses, HSE prosecutions and fines, and loss of reputation can also be significant. It is also worth considering what impact this may have on the availability and cost of future contractors all risk insurance renewals.

Legal duties in the construction sector

Notwithstanding employers and employee’s duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, in April 2005 specific Work at Height Regulations (WAH) were introduced. 

A key part of the WAH Regulations was the removal of the two-metre rule and its replacement with a requirement to assess risks where "a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury". This includes falls from any height and also those from ground level in to hazards like trenches, lift shafts and manholes. 

The WAH regulations require best management practice. An organisation will need to ensure their health and safety management system: 

  • Enables them to plan all work at height
  • Applies the "hierarchy of control measures" (see figure 1)
  • Selects the right people and equipment for the task
  • Trains persons doing the work
  • Inspects and maintains the equipment used
  • Ensures supervision and monitoring of work as per method statements, work instructions and toolbox talks

Hierarchy of Control Measurers for Construction Insurance

In the context of legal liability, the WAH regulations impose an absolute duty to manage the risk by consistent use of the word "shall" with regard to aspects such as planning, competence and supervision. "Reasonably practicable" only appears in relation to the fact that work at height must be "carried out in a manner which is so far as is reasonably practicable safe". 

Construction height control measurers:


>  Avoidance of work at height

  • Identify innovative solutions at the planning and design stage to avoid work at height e.g. manufacture beams that allow edge protection to be installed at ground level before they are lifted in to place. 
  • Use forklifts and cranes to unload vehicles. 
  • Shrink wrap pallets/vehicle loads at ground level rather than manual sheeting on vehicle. 

>  Prevention of falls

  • Identify and utilise an existing safe place of work at height before considering additional equipment.
  • Make safe existing structures with suitably adequate edge protection i.e. guard rails at least 950mm above the edge, fit toebaords and intermediate guard rail so no gap is greater than 470mm.
  • Design edge protection to create permanent barrier e.g. roll over barriers when lifting goods onto mezzanine areas.
  • Work from mobile elevated working platforms such as cherry pickers or scissor lifts or use podium steps or tower scaffolds. (Working from ladders should be seen as a last resort).
  • Ensure scaffolds are designed and erected in accordance with TG20:08
  • Maintain high housekeeping standards.

>  Minimise consequence of fall

  • Introduce protective equipment to reduce the distance and consequences of a fall.
  • Use collective protection to protect all workers in preference to personal protective equipment. e.g. netting and crash mats in preference to fall arrest lanyards.
  • Inspect and maintain personal and collective protective equipment.

>  Other measures when prevention and mitigation of falls is not reasonably practicable

  • Training and toolbox talks e.g. ladders, tower scaffold erection, use of mobile elevated working platforms.
  • Warning notices e.g. for fragile roofs.
  • Making edges highly visible when physical edge protection is not practicable.
  • Foot and hand holds to aid secure vehicle access and egress.
  • Suitable emergency rescue procedures for a suspended person.


HSE statistics show that falls from height are the main cause of workplace fatalities. The Work at Height Regulations require all work at height, where a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury,  to be assessed. 

With a need for effective risk management procedures within the regulations, all policyholders should formulate strategies to identify all tasks where work at height is required.

In addition to purchasing adequate construction insurance, all policyholders should seek to avoid such work wherever possible, or introduce equipment or procedures that prevent falls and/or minimise the consequences of falls. 


Working at height by Get Indemnity™ and QBE Insurance

This guide is for information purposes and based on sources we believe are reliable, the general risk management and insurance information is not intended to be taken as advice with respect to any individual circumstance and cannot be relied upon as such.