We know work at height is dangerous. It leads to over 4,000 serious injuries in the workplace every year. We know there are regulations governing work at height – they’re called the Work at Height Regulations. But what we don’t know is how high is “height”. Is it 5 metres, 10 metres, 1 metre?
This apparent vagueness with “height” can lead to some interesting interpretations. A primary school Head Teacher friend of mine was recently asked to carry out a work at height risk assessment. Her instructions – “to assess the risks of falling from anything the height of a kerb or more.”
Now I reckon such a risk assessment could take a very long time. There are quite a lot of things in a school that are the height of a kerb, or higher. Taking her instructions literally, she’d need to list them all and tick each one off when assessed? “Simmons from Year 6 (tick). Higher than the height of a kerb (tick). Risk of falling from him (negligible).”
And what about the 10 foot ditch at the far end of the playing field? Strictly speaking it isn’t higher than a kerb, unless you’re actually in it. Would that need to be assessed?
Let’s look at what the school got right, and what it got wrong.
The Work at Height Regulations make it clear that risk assessments must be carried out for work at height. So they got that right.
What they got wrong was what the Regulations say about height. They say a place is ‘at height’ if “a person could be injured falling from it, even if it is at or below ground level.” So this idea of a “kerb or higher” is nonsense.
And the other thing they got wrong was to think of risk assessments as tick box exercises where “anything” must be looked into. They’re not. All that needs to be considered are the things that “could reasonably be expected to cause harm.”
If you ever hear of a school cordoning off a kerb “for health and safety reasons” please don’t blame health and safety. Blame the person who didn’t bother finding out what they were talking about in the first place!