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Working at height - how safe are you?

Working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Common cases include falls from ladders and through fragile surfaces. ‘Work at height’ means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, where a person could fall and potentially become injured. Our working at height checklist will help you identify some of the most common activities that require working at height and the control measures you can put in place to help minimise or eliminate the risk.

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Methodist Insurance’s Technical Survey Manager Kevin Thomas said: “There are specific statutory health and safety regulations applying to working at height. It is extremely important that church trustees make sure that when work is carried out at height by staff or volunteers they take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury. Using a stepladder to change a light bulb could result in a serious fall and people should never do jobs like this when unaccompanied. It is vitally important written risk assessments are undertaken, actioned and recorded in writing”.

Quite apart from the risk of injury, this type of accident can expose the church to be investigated by the HSE. Methodist Insurance knows of a recent successful prosecutions being brought against churches by enforcing authorities for breach of health and safety regulations.

Kevin added: “An accident caused by a breach in health and safety regulations can have enormous implications. Apart from personal injury, there are indirect costs that insurance does not protect against such as the time taken up by legal action and the reputational damage done to the church involved. It is important we make sure our churches are safe places.”

Working at height - action points

  • Organisation and planning
    Every employer should ensure that work at height is properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner which, so far as is reasonably practicable, is safe.
    Organisation and planning of work at height should also include planning for emergencies and rescue, and ensure work at height is not undertaken during adverse weather conditions.

  • Competence
    Every employer should ensure that no person engages in any activity, including organisation, planning and supervision, in relation to work at height or equipment for use in such work, unless he is competent to do so or, if being trained, is being supervised by a competent person.

  • Avoidance of risks
    Every employer should ensure that work is not carried out at height where it is reasonably practicable to carry out the work safely otherwise than at height.
    Where work is carried out at height, every employer shall take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury.

  • Selection of work equipment
    Employers should give priority to collective protection measures over personal protection measures. They must also take account of the distance and consequences of a potential fall and the need for easy and timely evacuation and rescue in an emergency.

  • Requirements for particular work equipment
    Work equipment should be provided where necessary, including guardrails, toe-boards and barriers, working platforms, nets and airbags, personal fall protection systems and ladders.

  • Fragile surfaces
    No person at work should pass across or near, or work on, from or near, a fragile surface where it is reasonably practicable to carry out work safely and under appropriate ergonomic conditions without his doing so. Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that suitable and sufficient platforms, coverings, guardrails or similar means of support or protection are provided and used so that any foreseeable loading is supported by such supports or borne by such protection.
    If a risk of falling remains, employers must take suitable and sufficient measures to minimise the distance and consequence of a fall. Prominent warning notices should be fixed on the approach to any fragile surface.

  • Inspection of places
    So far as is reasonably practicable, employers should inspect the surface, and every parapet, permanent rail or other such fall protection measure of every place of work at height prior to its use.

  • Use of ladders
    Every year many people are injured, some fatally, while using ladders. More than half the accidents occur because ladders are not securely placed and fixed. A ladder is a means of access, not a safe working platform.

Specific requirements on the use of ladders and full advice on working at height can be found in our Health and Safety Guidance notes.

Redeveloping your church?

If you are planning any changes, such as alterations or an extension to any of your church buildings, you need to check if your existing Church Shield policy will be affected.

Inspect your lifts regularly

If you have any kind of stairlift, wheelchair lift or passenger lift in your church, health and safety regulations require you to undertake regular inspections of the equipment.

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Methodist Insurance PLC (MIC) Reg. No. 6369. Registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester, GL1 1JZ. Methodist Insurance PLC is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority, Firm Reference Number 136423.