Working at Height


This is the sixth post in a series of 25. Each post will be dealing with a shipboard work related issue and how to cope with it. Previous articles in the series has been about:

  1. Safe Manual Handling
  2. Preventing Slip, Trips and falls
  3. Toolbox Talks
  4. Lifting Operations
  5. Lifting Equipment



Falls from height are among the most common cause of fatal and major workplace injury. The root cause of a large proportion of falls from height has been insufficient management control and poor planning.


What is ‘Work at Height’?

Work at height (WAH) can be defined as “work in any place including a place at or below ground level, where if measures were not taken a person could fall a distance liable to cause injury”. For example:

  • work of a platform (e.g. from a scaffold tower);
  • work close to an unguarded hole/opening through which a person could fall (e.g. around the open moon pool, removal of vessel handrails);
  • work from a ladder (e.g. external of the dive bell, access ladders to LSA equipment);
  • access and egress to a place of work can also be work at height, for example using a ladder to access a platform (e.g. use of ladder as means of access only).


How can we control work at height?

The planning and design phase of a project or task represents the greatest opportunity to eliminate the need to work at height or reduce the risks associated with the activity.

Working at height and fall potential should be considered at the design review phase of a project. Working at height or fall potential activities should only be considered as the last option when assessing how work should be carried out.


Working at height or fall potential activities should only be undertaken if the task is essential and alternative means of achieving the task have been fully considered.


If working at height or fall potential activities are necessary, they should be carried out according to the following general principles:

  • all work at height in all locations should be properly planned and organised, and should be carried out in a safe and efficient manner;
  • collective fall prevention measures should have priority over personal fall protection measures;
  • a fall protection system providing 100% connection should be used in any location where the potential exists to have a fall likely to cause personal injury;
  • lone working should not be allowed and all personnel should work as part of a team of at least two people, one of which providing direct standby cover; when assessing risk, weather conditions should be taken into account, as these could pose additional hazards when working at height on vessels;
  • those involved in work at height should be trained and competent;
  • equipment used for work at height should be appropriately inspected;
  • the risks from fragile surfaces should be properly controlled;
  • the risks from falling objects should be properly controlled. Working at height can be a specialist activity and as such all personnel engaged in it should be appropriately trained.


Checklist for work at height

In the table below, it is stated what check that should be carried out before any work at height is commenced.

A general rule applying to all works at height.

Never take shortcuts when at height. There is no situation which justifies the risk!



Checks that must be carried out before any work at height is commenced


Do you need to work at height? Refer to the hierarchy of risk found below to find the safest method of doing the task.


If you have to work at height, always conduct a risk assessment and obtain a permit to work before starting.


Ensure there is adequate rescue provision in place.


Do not work at height alone or when you are tired – work with a partner and take adequate breaks.


Don't over-reach


Ensure you are attached securely to a sufficient strong anchorage point all of the time when you are working at height.


Always use tool bags and/or tie-off tools to prevent dropped objects.


Ensure the area below the work is properly barriered off so you cannot work above people.


Keep an eye on weather and sea conditions


Remain aware of potential hazards and especially of simultaneous operations.

The hierarchy of Risk for Working at Height


Don't work at height Is the work necessary? Can it be done another way?


Collective protection Permanent barriers, handrails and edge protection


Collective protection Temporary barriers and equipment, e.g. scaffolding, man-riding basket


Work restraint Restraint lanyards and harnesses


Work positioning Work positioning lanyard (with fall arrest equipment as back-up) or rope access


Fall arrest Fall arrest equipment, e.g. inertia reels, fall working lanyards, safety nets


Potentially none Ladders or portable platforms (used with working at height PPE where practical)