If you are considering working at height then where else can you have a more critical working environment than flying either the NASA space shuttle or an RAF Tornado jet?

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 don’t actually feature either of these as the basis upon which the regulations were drawn up but both, ironically, are involved in a British invention that is designed to create a safe working environment when servicing them.

This regulation places onerous requirements on anyone who sends paid employees to work at a height “where a fall is liable to cause personal injury”. A full risk assessment must be carried out before anyone is asked to work at height – that is now the law.

We are not only talking about significant drops – accessing a light fitting to change a bulb clearly fits into the criteria because a fall is liable to cause personal injury. So you can now add as part of the solution to the question “how many people does it take to change a light bulb?” – the health and safety executive who carries out the risk assessment.
Ladders do not always provide the solution and indeed according to many sources they are often the cause of accidents. In homes and gardens in Britain an average of 50 people die each year from falls from ladders – and a further 6000 require hospital treatment. The situation in the work place is often potentially far more hazardous.

Most parties agree that regulation to improve safety is a good thing. The Work at Height Regulations are broadly welcomed. The risk assessment needs to fulfil a number of basic criteria relating to the equipment that is being made available and from which the employee will be expected to carry out the work.

Drawing on the above, it is evident that safe and secure access to the place of work is a basic essential and stability at the given height is another.

When the employers or employees reach the working height, are there sufficient safety rails on the platform to allow them to complete the tasks without leaning out dangerously? Are kick-boards in place around the base of the working platform to prevent tools and equipment dropping down onto employees on the ground? And finally is there sufficient lighting to be able to see the task in hand? All this has to be written down and recorded properly.

In the event of an accident, failure to have complied with any of these aspects would be significantly damaging to the employer.

The traditional answer to many questions of access is traditional scaffolding or a scaffolding tower. Providing it satisfies the risk assessment criteria it is the historical solution. The problem with this however, is that normally it is provided by external sources. If you face an equipment breakdown requiring access at height you need the solution immediately. Short notice hiring is even more expensive than pre-planned and you might need it for something as inconsequential as changing a light bulb.

When it comes to servicing the NASA Shuttle and RAF Tornado jet fighters, the Work at Height regulations offer a constantly changing need. Working on the Shuttle on the ground requires one set of criteria, whilst when attached to a space rocket it’s quite a different requirement. The nose cone of a Tornado is set at one height off the ground and reaching the top fin of the tail plane is an entirely different situation – and height.

The solution to both of these – and many more – lies not with traditional scaffolding but with a modular system that, rather like adults meccano or erector set, can be expanded or reduced without the need for tools to meet the demand of the job.

You don’t have to be working in aerospace because regardless of your business, occasions will arise when you will be asking someone to work at height.