Safe System of Work - Working at Height (2023)

At Spectrum, we apply strict guidelines on how to work at height safely. Read on to discover more about what working at height entails and how we do it safely and efficiently.

For many, working at height is part and parcel of the job description. Whether it involves abseiling down a building or cleaning roofs without scaffolding, it takes a special individual to fulfil the role.

  • In this safe working at heights guide, we outline the definition of working at height, top tips for staying safe and our approach to creating a compliant working environment.

What is Work at Height?

To work at height means to work in any place where a person could be injured if they fell. According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it can be classified as working from height if you:

  • Work above ground level or below.
  • Could fall from an edge, through an opening or a fragile surface.
  • Could fall from ground level into an opening in the floor or a hole in the ground.

Several professions require working at height, such as:

  • High-rise window cleaning
  • Major building works
  • Abseiling services
  • Roofing repairs and cleaning
  • Render repairs and cleaning
  • Cladding cleaning and restoration
  • Gutter cleaning
  • Working on formwork
  • Working on a ladder
  • Scaffolding

Every responsible business operating in this space has a duty to create a safe work procedure for working at height by implementing a safe system of work (SSoW).

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What is a Safe System of Work?

A safe system of work (SSoW) is a formal practice which applies a systematic approach to examining work to identify any potential hazards.

An SSoW will outline the safe methods of working to alleviate any of the said hazards and possible risks. A safe system of work for working at height is integral due to the possible fatal outcomes.

However, rope access services are actually the safest way of working at a height and have a very low occurrence of injury. This is because the regulations, training and professionalism necessary for an operative to use rope access to perform restoration services are tightly controlled. Thankfully, not everyone can just abseil off a building!

HSE’s Safe System of Work Definition

HSE has a strict code of practice for working safely at a height to which every employer operating in this space must adhere.

It states that employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure that any work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by skilled professionals. This definition includes using the right type of equipment to fulfil the duties of working at height.

Employers should first assess the risks before undertaking any work or exposing a professional to the pressures of working at height. HSE recommends applying the following control measures:

  • Avoid working at a height where it isn’t practicable.
  • In situations where work at height can’t be avoided, use an existing safe place of work or the right type of equipment to prevent any injuries.
  • Always minimise the distance and consequences of a fall by using the right equipment in situations where work at height is unavoidable.

It’s also worth planning to make sure:

  • Professionals can safely get to and from the location they need to be to work at height.
  • All equipment is suitable and sturdy enough to fulfil the task (Regular checks should be carried out).
  • There is protection provided to minimise the impact of falling objects (i.e. issuing a hardhat).
  • There are emergency safety procedures for evacuation and rescue.
  • A higher level of precaution is carried out when a professional is working on/near fragile surfaces.

Employees have a general legal duty to look after themselves and those around them that could be affected by their actions too. They are required to work with their employer to ensure health and safety regulations are complied with.

For further detail on the necessary responsibilities and legalities, see HSE’s Working at Height: a brief guide.

What is a Safe Wind Speed for Working at Height?

A safe wind speed for working at height depends on the environment and the conditions. HSE says all work should stop when winds exceed 23mph (Force 5), as it affects a person’s balance. However, if it’s raining, icy, frosty or particularly gusty, this speed might be too high to operate safely.

The latest ATLAS guidance is a perfect aid during these challenging situations. It was written to support employers and decision-makers in helping them “understand the importance of taking wind effects into account in their everyday assessment of activities whilst working at height”. And it takes the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR 2005).

12 Safety Tips for Working at Heights

To keep our operatives safe when working at height, we always recommend the following best practices:

1. Never overreach or overload – The risk doesn’t outweigh the reward.

2. Work from the ground as much as possible – It’s simple, but often overlooked.

3. Carry out personal checks – Although it’s predominately our responsibility (the employer) to create a safe work at height environment, there’s no harm in employees personally assessing whether they can get to and from where they need to be and whether all equipment is suitable.

4. Refresh themselves on all emergency evacuation and rescue procedures – It only takes a few minutes to ask again if required.

5. Use ladders or stepladders for strenuous/challenging tasks – Or if an operative is using them for a short duration for a maximum of 30 minutes at a time.

6. Help each other – If an operative thinks their colleague isn’t confident or competent, tell a senior member of staff.

7. Never rest a ladder against weak upper surfaces – This can include plastic gutters or glazing.

8. Never overload ladders – Always check the pictogram or label on the ladder to assess whether certain equipment or materials can be carried while climbing.

9. Always invest in the right PPE – It only takes one piece of stray equipment to fall from a height to cause real damage. Wearing the wrong clothing can also lead to problematic situations.

10. Use MEWPs properly – Mobile Elevator Working Platforms (MEWPs) can be dangerous during windy conditions and wet days. Always cordon off any surrounding areas below and wear an adjustable harness.

11. Create a personal safety system – There might be some cases when an operative has to work at height on their own. Implementing a personal safety device with fall detection can be a lifesaver.

12. Trust your gut – If something doesn’t feel right, we always tell our operatives to trust their gut and take the safe option. Whether it’s the task at hand, the condition of the PPE and tools or an inadequate safe work procedure for working at height, there should be no exceptions to safety.

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Why is a Safe System of Work So Important to Us at Spectrum?

At Spectrum, we understand the importance of safety in the workplace. It’s not only a vital part of providing a quality service to our clients, but it’s also integral to how we operate and keep our team safe. All our operatives working at height are provided with the best protective equipment and trained to the highest standards regulated by the International Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA). The regulated training and our formal safe system of work for working at height ensure we maintain high safety standards and make our rope access services as safe as possible. To find out more about our safe system of work system or rope access services, get in touch with us today. Or if you’re keen to keep learning, read our guide on rope access cleaning.

People Also Ask

What is Meant by Safe Systems of Work?

A safe system of work is a process of doing a job that eliminates identified hazards and implements a control process to protect employees and other people with minimum risk.

What is a Safe System of Work Examples?

A safe system of work is a set of procedures (usually a step-by-step guide) on how to make specific tasks as safe as possible.

Some examples of safe systems of work include:

  • A safety checklist for employees working at height or in small spaces.
  • A step-by-step guide on how to use hazardous cleaning substances or to check if a piece of equipment is suitable and stable enough to do a job.

What are the 5 Steps of a Safe System of Work?

There are five steps required to create a safe system of work:

1. Complete a full risk assessment for the task.

2. Identify risks and assess hazards that could present a threat.

3. Develop methods to reduce the risk level for the task.

4. Document a step-by-step process for staff to follow. Train them to use this.

5. Continually monitor the performance of the SSoW and reassess regularly.

What Should a Safe System of Work Include?

A safe system of work should include a set of procedures to make specific tasks as safe as possible. It will usually be a detailed step-by-step guide which considers the materials, people and equipment involved.

What is a Safe System of Work HSE UK?

According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE), “A safe system of work is a method of doing a job which eliminates identified hazards, controls others and plans to achieve the controlled completion of the work with minimum risk. It may include a range of precautions from simple ‘lock off’ procedures and protective equipment to a full written permit to work system.”

How Do You Monitor a Safe System of Work?

You should always monitor a safe system of work by assessing the current work processes. Is the equipment up to scratch? Are the processes being followed, or are creating a lot of inconsistencies in performance?

Safe systems of work should always be dynamic and reviewed as and when the task is being carried out. It’s the employer’s responsibility to make any necessary adjustments.

How Do You Create a Safe Work Environment?

You create a safe work environment by continually reviewing your environment, equipment and processes. For example:

  • Make sure your building or equipment is functional, safe and efficient.
  • Correct any dangerous defects immediately and take steps to protect anyone at risk.
  • Keep all surfaces free of obstruction.
  • Ensure all employees are fully trained and equipped for the job.
  • Assess weather conditions, especially when working at height.

What is the Difference Between SSoW and SOP?

A standard operating procedure (SOP) provides step-by-step instructions on the necessary activities required in an operation to complete tasks per industry regulations, laws and business standards.

In contrast, a safe system of work (SSoW) is a formal systematic approach that examines methods of work to identify any potential hazards.

What is the Difference Between a Safe System of Work and a Risk Assessment?

There are key differences between a risk assessment and a safe system of work (SSoW). A SSoW is a step-by-step method of carrying out a task that considers the associated hazards and risks. It then states the control measures required to keep people safe. Whereas a risk assessment determines whether a safe system of work is required in the first place.

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