Work at Height Risk Assessment Guide

Written By: SCAL Academy

Date: 23 April 2024

Topic: WSH Safety Guidelines

Table of contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Step-by-Step Guide to Work at Height Risk Assessment

  3. Detailed Steps for Conducting Work at Height Risk Assessment

  4. Example Risk Assessment 

  5. Conclusion


Working at height remains one of the most hazardous activities within various industries, carrying significant risks of injury and fatality. Ensuring the safety of employees who engage in such activities is not only a regulatory requirement but a fundamental ethical obligation of every employer. A robust risk assessment and control strategy is essential to manage and mitigate these risks effectively. This article outlines a systematic approach to conducting work at height risk assessments, detailing each critical step from preparation to training and certification. By adhering to this structured process, organizations can significantly reduce the likelihood of accidents and create a safer working environment for all involved.


Step-by-Step Guide to Work at Height Risk Assessment

Source: WSH Council, Technical Advisory for Working at Height

This guide provides a detailed framework for conducting risk assessments specifically tailored for work at height activities, which are known for their elevated risks. Each step is designed to build upon the previous one, ensuring a comprehensive approach to identifying, evaluating, and controlling potential hazards.


Detailed Steps for Conducting Work at Height Risk Assessment

Step 1: Preparation

What is Preparation? Preparation is the foundational stage of a risk assessment where you establish the groundwork for identifying and analyzing potential hazards associated with work at height. This step involves forming a knowledgeable team and gathering essential data that influences the entire risk assessment process.


How to Gather Information Gathering information is critical for understanding the context in which work at height occurs and the specific challenges it presents. The information should include:

  • Past Accident Data: Review records of previous incidents to identify trends and recurring issues.

  • Equipment Specifications: Understand the capabilities and limitations of the equipment being used.

  • Work Procedures: Document current work procedures to evaluate their adequacy and safety.

  • Environmental Conditions: Consider factors such as weather, lighting, and site layout, which can affect the safety of work at height.

Example: For a roofing project, you would gather details about the types of roofing materials, the building’s height, the roof's slope, records of past incidents related to roofing, and typical weather conditions that could impact safety.

Source: WSH Council, Technical Advisory for Working at Height


How to Form a Risk Assessment Team The risk assessment team should be composed of individuals with diverse expertise relevant to the specific tasks and risks associated with work at height. Here’s how to form this team:

  • Diverse Roles: Include a mix of roles such as site managers, safety officers, and experienced workers.

  • Qualifications and Experience: Team members should have relevant qualifications and experience. For example, a safety officer experienced in fall protection systems, a site manager familiar with overseeing construction projects, and workers who have hands-on experience with the specific tasks at height.

  • Training and Competency: Ensure that all team members have up-to-date training on risk assessment techniques and are competent in identifying and evaluating workplace hazards.


Example of Team Composition:

  • Site Manager: Oversees the overall site operations and ensures that safety protocols are integrated with daily activities.

  • Safety Officer: Specializes in work-at-height safety regulations, risk identification, and mitigation strategies.

  • Experienced Workers: Provide practical insights into the tasks, potential hazards, and effectiveness of current safety measures.


Step 2: Hazard Identification

What is Hazard Identification? Hazard identification is the process of determining what, in your work environment, could cause harm to people involved in work at height activities. It involves a thorough examination of the workplace to identify potential sources of injury or illness associated with each work activity.

Source: WSH Council, Technical Advisory for Working at Height


Why Perform Hazard Identification? The purpose of this step is to ensure that all potential hazards are recognized before they cause harm. It helps in planning how to eliminate or control risks at an early stage, thereby enhancing workplace safety.


How to Identify Hazards:

Determine Work Activities: Start by detailing all the tasks that are planned to be carried out at height. Understanding these tasks helps in pinpointing specific hazards associated with each task.

Example: For scaffolding work, the tasks might include the erection of scaffolding, working on scaffolding platforms, and dismantling the scaffolding.


Identify and Analyze Hazards: Examine each task for potential hazards. This includes direct risks like falls from height and indirect risks such as falling objects or structural failures.

Example: Potential hazards for a scaffolding task might include unstable ground for scaffold legs, the risk of overloading scaffolds, or the hazard of falling objects.


Consult All Involved: Engage with everyone who works at height to identify less obvious hazards. Workers can provide insights based on their experiences and might highlight risks that are not immediately apparent.

Example: Workers may report experiences of occasional high winds that destabilize temporary work platforms or personal encounters with slippery surfaces on scaffold platforms.


Types of Hazards to Consider:

Source: WSH Council, Technical Advisory for Working at Height


  • Falls from height due to unguarded edges or inadequate fall protection.

  • Objects falling from height, posing risks to those below.

  • Structural collapses, especially with temporary structures like scaffolds.

  • Slipping, tripping, or falling on the same level due to poor housekeeping.

  • Contact with moving machinery or being struck by hand tools or construction material.

  • Environmental factors such as wind, rain, and poor lighting conditions.


Step 3: Risk Evaluation

What is Risk Evaluation? Risk evaluation is the process of analyzing identified hazards to assess the potential impact and likelihood of occurrence. This analysis helps determine the level of risk associated with each hazard and guides the prioritization and implementation of appropriate control measures.


How to Evaluate Risks:

Source: WSH Council, Technical Advisory for Working at Height


  1. Determine Severity: Classify the potential impact of each hazard on health and safety if it were to occur. Severity can range from minor to major:

    • Minor: No injury, or only first aid required (e.g., minor cuts, bruises, temporary discomfort).

    • Moderate: Injury requiring medical treatment or causing temporary disability (e.g., lacerations, burns, sprains).

    • Major: Serious injury or life-threatening occupational disease (e.g., amputations, major fractures, occupational cancer).

  2. Determine Likelihood: Estimate how likely it is that each hazard could result in harm under current conditions:

    • Remote: Not likely to occur.

    • Occasional: Possible or known to occur sometimes.

    • Frequent: Common or repeating occurrence.

  3. Use a Risk Matrix: Combine the severity and likelihood assessments to determine the overall risk level for each hazard. This helps in prioritizing which risks require the most urgent attention.


Example of Risk Matrix Application:

  • A hazard causing minor injuries that occurs frequently might be considered a medium risk.

  • A hazard causing major injuries that occurs occasionally might be rated as a high risk.

Specific Example:

  • Assessing the Risk of Falling from Scaffolding: If falling from scaffolding is known to occur occasionally and could result in major injuries or death, this hazard would be classified as high risk, necessitating immediate and significant control measures.

  • Using Ladders in Wet Conditions: If this situation is considered to have a high likelihood of occurring and could lead to serious injuries, it would be marked as high risk in the risk matrix, highlighting the need for stringent preventive actions.


Risk Level Determination:

Source: WSH Council, Technical Advisory for Working at Height


  • Low Risk: Minor severity and remote likelihood. Standard precautions are sufficient.

  • Medium Risk: Moderate severity with occasional likelihood. Enhanced safety measures and close monitoring are required.

  • High Risk: Major severity with any likelihood. Immediate action is required to mitigate the risk.


Action Based on Risk Level:

  • For medium risks, such as when a fall hazard has moderate severity and occasional likelihood, implement and strengthen preventive measures following the hierarchy of controls. Continual assessment and adjustment of these measures are crucial to maintaining safety.

  • If the risk cannot be eliminated, which is often the case in work at height activities, reduce it to as low as is reasonably practicable. This involves deploying multiple layers of controls from engineering solutions to personal protective equipment and administrative controls.


Step 4: Risk Control

What is Risk Control? Risk control involves the implementation of strategies and measures to minimize, monitor, and manage the risks identified during the risk assessment process. The aim is to reduce the likelihood and severity of hazards to an acceptable level, ensuring the safety and health of everyone involved. This step is crucial for ensuring ongoing safety in environments prone to hazards, such as work at height scenarios.


What is the Hierarchy of Controls? The Hierarchy of Controls is a systematic approach used in risk management to control exposures to identified hazards. It is arranged in order of effectiveness and preference, with the most effective controls being prioritized. This method helps organizations implement feasible and effective controls that protect workers by reducing exposure to hazards.

Source: WSH Council, Technical Advisory for Working at Height


Apply the Hierarchy of Controls:

When working at height, employing a structured approach to hazard control is vital. Below is a detailed explanation of the hierarchy of controls used in risk assessments, providing insights into the definition, application, and importance of each control measure, with relevant examples for clarity.

1. Elimination

Definition: Elimination involves removing the hazard entirely from the workplace.

When to Use: This is the first and most effective measure in the control hierarchy. It should be considered before moving on to less effective measures.

Why: Elimination completely removes the risk, thereby preventing any possibility of an accident or injury related to the hazard.

Example: Designing tasks to be performed at ground level, thereby avoiding the need for work at height altogether, such as assembling parts or machinery before installation.


2. Substitution

Definition: Substitution involves replacing something that produces a hazard with something that does not produce a hazard.

When to Use: Use substitution when elimination is not possible, but a less hazardous option can achieve the same outcome.

Why: Substitution can reduce the level of inherent risk by replacing materials or processes with less hazardous ones.

Example: Replacing the use of ladders for accessing high areas with telescopic tools or extendable equipment, which can be operated from the ground.


3. Engineering Controls

Definition: Engineering controls involve the use of physical modifications to reduce or eliminate hazards.

When to Use: These should be used when hazards cannot be eliminated or substituted. Engineering controls focus on isolating people from the hazard.

Why: These controls are reliable and do not rely on human behavior to be effective. They provide a physical barrier between the hazard and the worker.

Example: Installing guardrails and toe boards on all scaffold platforms to prevent falls and dropped objects. Another example is the use of safety nets and airbags below high work areas to catch falling workers or tools.


4. Administrative Controls

Definition: Administrative controls are changes to the way work is organized or performed to reduce risk.

When to Use: Use these controls when hazards cannot be removed or sufficiently mitigated by engineering controls.

Why: These controls reduce risk through policies, procedures, and training, influencing how tasks are performed to enhance safety.

Example: Implementing a schedule that limits the amount of time a worker can spend at height or establishing mandatory rest periods to prevent fatigue. Another example is providing training programs that educate workers on safe practices and emergency procedures when working at height.


5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Definition: Personal protective equipment involves wearing equipment to protect against health or safety risks at work.

When to Use: PPE should be used as a last resort when risks cannot be adequately controlled by other means. It is used in conjunction with other controls, not as a standalone solution.

Why: PPE protects the individual directly and can prevent serious injuries in the event of an accident, although it does not eliminate the hazard itself.

Example: Requiring the use of harnesses, helmets, and non-slip work boots for workers who must perform tasks at height. Harnesses should be connected to a secure anchor point to arrest a fall, potentially saving lives.



Step 5: Implementation and Monitoring

What is Implementation and Monitoring? Implementation and monitoring encompass putting the risk control measures into practice and continuously overseeing their effectiveness. This step is crucial for ensuring that the controls effectively reduce or eliminate the risks and that they continue to perform as expected over time.


Implementing the Control Measures:

  • Communicate the Plan: It's vital to ensure that every individual involved in operations at height is fully aware of the potential risks and understands the control measures that have been put in place. This involves clear communication of safety protocols, training sessions, and regular updates as measures evolve or new risks are identified.


Monitoring of Risk Controls:

  • Continuous Monitoring: The effectiveness of all implemented risk control measures, including those at Levels 1 (Elimination), 2 (Substitution), and 3 (Engineering Controls), must be continuously monitored. This responsibility primarily falls to immediate work supervisors, who are tasked with ensuring that these measures are effectively maintained and adhered to at all times.

  • Monitor and Review: Regular checks and assessments are required to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the control measures. This process involves identifying any deviations or failures in the measures and making necessary adjustments to address them.

Example: Conduct weekly safety meetings to discuss any near misses, incidents, or issues related to the current risk controls. Use feedback from these meetings to adjust the risk assessment and update control measures accordingly. Additionally, supervisors should perform daily or shift-wise inspections to observe compliance and functionality of safety systems on the ground.


Ensuring Effective Implementation:

  • Documentation and Record-Keeping: Keep detailed records of all risk control measures, including when they were implemented, how they have been maintained, and any changes made over time. This documentation is crucial for tracking progress and proving compliance with safety regulations.

  • Feedback Loop: Establish a feedback mechanism that allows workers to report on the efficacy of controls and any concerns they have regarding safety measures. This input can be invaluable for making real-time improvements.


Step 6: Training and Certification

What is Training and Certification? Training and certification are critical components of a comprehensive risk management strategy, especially for work at height. This step ensures that all workers involved have the necessary theoretical knowledge and practical skills to safely perform their tasks at height, while also meeting regulatory requirements.


Provide Comprehensive Training:

  • Theory and Practice: Training should cover both theoretical understanding and practical applications of safety practices for work at height. This dual approach ensures workers not only know what to do but also how to do it safely under various conditions.

  • Regular Sessions and Demonstrations: Conduct regular training sessions that include hands-on demonstrations on the correct use of safety equipment, emergency procedures, and hazard recognition.

Example: Organize monthly training sessions on the proper use of personal fall arrest systems. These sessions should include practical demonstrations on how to inspect, wear, and maintain the equipment correctly, ensuring that every worker can apply these practices in real-world scenarios.


Incorporating SCAL Academy's WAH Courses: To further enhance the training and competency of workers, incorporating specialized courses offered by SCAL Academy can be highly beneficial. These courses are designed to provide in-depth knowledge and skills pertinent to work at height activities and risk management.


  • Manage Work at Height Course: This course equips participants with the skills to manage work at height activities effectively. It covers planning, supervising, and executing work at height safely, emphasizing risk assessment and preventive measures.

  • Perform Work at Height Course: Focuses on providing workers with the necessary skills to safely perform work at height. The course includes practical aspects of using personal fall arrest systems and other relevant equipment.

  • Develop a Risk Management Implementation Plan: This course is targeted at those responsible for implementing risk management plans at their workplaces. It provides a thorough understanding of the Risk Management (RM) process and helps develop effective and practical RM implementation strategies.


Example Risk Assessment 

Source: WSH Council, Technical Advisory for Working at Height



The importance of conducting thorough work at height risk assessments cannot be overstated. By systematically following the steps outlined—preparation, hazard identification, risk evaluation, risk control, implementation and monitoring, and training and certification—employers can ensure that they not only comply with legal requirements but also uphold the safety and well-being of their workforce. The integration of structured training programs, such as those offered by SCAL Academy, further enhances the effectiveness of risk management strategies, equipping workers with the necessary skills and knowledge to safely navigate the complexities of work at height. Ultimately, the goal is to foster a culture of safety that permeates all levels of an organization, reducing risks and protecting lives. This proactive approach is crucial for maintaining a resilient safety culture that adapts to changing conditions and continuously improves, ensuring that every worker returns home safely at the end of the day.

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