Despite the fact that falls from height remain the primary cause for death in the workplace, employers continue to flout rules designed to protect their staff.

Jonathan Rensink explains why legislation needs to be taken seriously.

Early last year, a UK roofing company director narrowly missed a jail sentence after three members of his staff were spotted working without edge protection to prevent falls, on the pitched roof of a two-storey house in East Grinstead, West Sussex.

Magistrates heard that this was not the first time HSE had encountered poor working practices involving the same company and a previous enforcement action and prosecution had taken place in March 2018 for similar conditions at a site in Horsham, West Sussex.

And as a result, he was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, was disqualified from being a director for three years and ordered to pay £4000 in costs.

Prosecutions and penalties for breaching Health & Safety legislation are significant.  There is no maximum limit to the fines that can be imposed, and the most serious cases could result in a prison sentence.

Taking it seriously

Working at height remains a huge health and safety problem that roofers and roofing companies must take more seriously.

After all, falls from height continue to be the biggest overall cause of death in the workplace – with 40 killed between April 2018 and March 2019 according to recent figures. This is up from 30 deaths in 2017/18 and 38 in 2016/17.

Common causes include the incorrect use of ladders or scaffolding, the poor condition of working-at-height equipment, walking one fragile roof coverings and a general lack of training.

Coming across people apparently oblivious to either the rules or the danger can be heart stopping! This photo was taken on holiday in France a couple of years ago summer.  It shows two roofers working without any specialist protective equipment or edge protection in place – 3 storeys up!

So, what are the rules?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (Statute 37) says that adequate fall prevention measures should be put in place ahead of work starting for anyone working at height.

There is no minimum distance from the ground for working at height.  The ‘height’ aspect simply means a level from which a person could be seriously injured from a fall – even at or below ground level where there is a deep trench.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) routinely investigates sites and will prosecute companies who fail to ensure that a working at height risk assessment is not carried out prior to the start of works.

Protection measures must be put in place if they are needed and accountability for any breach must be shown by a company director. Do question your manager about the working at height safety assessment before starting work on any site that you are unsure about.

How can I access training?

If you regularly work at height,  from platforms, ladders, scaffolds or alongside deep trenches, or are responsible for those who do,  a wide variety of courses exist to help you assess the potential dangers together with the correct and safe use of equipment.

If you are about to embark on this type of work for the first time, we’d recommend our comprehensive classroom-based training course.

If you’ve got more experience, but need a refresher on the do’s & don’ts, we’d point you in the direction of our eleven-module e-learning course.  This takes around 2 hours to complete, costs just £20 and delegates receive a certificate on completion. To find out more visit: