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HSE guidance on working at height simplified, but underlying regulations remain unchanged, says expert

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published new guidance on what the law requires of both employers and employees when people are working at height.31 Jan 2014

The guidance, which has also been made available through a dedicated HSE micro-site, features simple 'dos and don'ts' for working at height and targeted advice to help businesses in different sectors manage the risks. It also addresses what it calls the "persistent myths" about health and safety law in this area, such as the banning of ladders on building sites when these can still be used for low risk activities of a short duration, or where existing workplace features cannot be altered.

The publication has been billed as part of the Government's 'Red Tape Challenge' review of regulations, but health and safety expert Gareth McManus of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that there had been no change in the underlying regulations governing working at height.

"Despite talk of a 'bonfire of regulations', it appears the Work at Height Regulations are considered to remain as fit for purpose, and the only concerns with these regulations lay in their interpretation," he said. "The new guidance is designed to provide simple, clear advice to employers and other duty holders as to what is required of them under the regulations and how they should plan and carry out work at height in the safest way possible."

"Latest HSE figures show that falls from height continue to be the cause of more fatalities than any other type of accident at work, as well as thousands of serious injuries every year. Only time will tell as to whether or not this new guidance will improve the safety of work at height by debunking the many myths and misunderstandings surrounding these regulations and helping businesses focus more sharply on effectively managing the risks involved," he said.

More than 10 million workers and a million British businesses carry out jobs involving some form of work at height every year, in sectors including agriculture, manufacturing and construction. The term is used to refer to work in any place where a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury if there were no precautions in place. The new guidance was produced by HSE with the support of trade unions, and business bodies including the British Retail Consortium and Small Business Trade Association Forum.

Legislation covering work at height is predominantly set by the EU, and set out in the 2005 Work at Height Regulations. The text of the regulations themselves has not changed.

"It's important to get working at height right," said HSE chair Judith Hackitt. "Falls remain one of the biggest causes of serious workplace injury - with more than 40 people killed and 4,000 suffering major injuries every year."

"We have a sensible set of regulations and have been working with business to improve our guidance – making it simpler and clearer and dispelling some of the persistent myths about what the law requires. The result is advice that employers can count on to help them manage their businesses sensibly and proportionately," she said.