WAH Regulations Explained

Categories: Working At Height Tags: Legislation

There are 19 Regulations in total, of which 11 actually refer to working at height. The remaining 8 deal with definitions, changes to other acts and special exemptions. For the most part, these regulations can be a sea of confusion and obscurity for people without legal know-how, we we've broken them down with brief explanations to help you get to grips with them. Be sure to download the Work At Height Regulations 2005 and follow along.

Regulation 1

This simply defines the start date of the Regs as April 6th 2005. Not much to see here!

Regulation 2

This defines all the terms used in the rest of the text. Importantly in section (1) it defines what is meant by ‘working at height’, and in section (2) it clarifies how you are allowed to keep your records of equipment inspection. One change is that electronic records (spreadsheets and databases) must be secure from loss or interference – so your files have to be password-protected or controlled in some similar way. An open-to-all spreadsheet will not do!

Regulation 3

Application. This section describes who these Regulations can apply to. It does not define when, only who. The ‘when’ is based on Regulation 2 and its definition of what ‘work at height’ means.

Reg 3(1) to 3(3) make sure the Regs apply as do the rest of the HSAWA categories – when people are at work and for employees, employers and the self-employed. 3(2)b makes sure that even if your workers are not from the UK, if they’re working in the UK under your control, then you are responsible for applying the Regulations. This for example covers the use of foreign nationals as casual labour, or for non-UK firms operating in the UK (such as touring musicians, etc).

The master and crew of a ship is exempt provided the master is solely directing the work, and no other persons are likely to be affected. This gives crews the freedom to work normally onboard ship, climbing masts, ladders and so forth. Also, those engaged in certain dockyard and fishing vessel loading operations are exempted as the nature of the work cannot be changed to comply to these Regs, so they are covered by existing and differing rules.

Reg 4(4)d exempts caving and climbing instructors (who are ‘at work’) as the nature of what they do cannot be performed using industrial techniques. 4(5) exempts offshore installations (wells and rigs) from Regulation 11 which details creation of danger areas (as this is impossible on offshore platforms).

Regulation 4

Death from suspension trauma is caused by orthostatic intolerance and is the result of venous pooling. This can occur any time a person is required to stand still for prolonged periods and may be worsened by heat and dehydration.

Planning. This is a short but very powerful Regulation, as it defines what employers must do when planning work at height. 4(1) is pretty obvious in asking that people plan and supervise jobs safely, and that the choice of equipment is also important at a planning stage. Reg 4(2) is really significant as it means employers must plan for rescue. This means that when you plan a job your normal planning decisions, risk assessments, protocols, permits and training MUST also account for what happens in an emergency. You have to decide in advance how to provide rescue and evacuation for your workers – which implies equipment, training, communications, procedures and much more! Reg 4(3) makes it clear that working in dangerous weather is not acceptable, but it does not tell you what weather is or is not unsafe. That remains up to your training and planning, and will depend on the site, job, access methods and equipment. It certainly makes sure that workers cannot choose to, or be forced to, work in potentially dangerous weather. The obvious exemption in 4(4) makes sure the people trying to rescue you aren’t sent home by rain!

Regulation 5

Competence. A short and sweet Regulation, but wide-ranging. It says that everyone working, planning and supervising work at height must be competent (or supervised if still being trained). It does not define what EXACTLY is needed, but the legal definition of competence implies that the person has received training and instruction in the task, and has been assessed as of a certain suitable level of skill in applying that instruction. This normally means attending a training course or passing a qualification, rather than simply having some unofficial and undocumented experience.

Regulation 6

Avoidance of risk. Simple enough at the start, this requires a risk assessment for all work at height, and that planners avoid working at height where reasonably practicable. Naturally this is affirming the overall HSAWA rule that workplaces should be ‘as safe as practicable’. You should not climb a ladder to clean windows if you can do it from the inside, or by using long-handled tools. 4(3) and 4(4) give graduated permission to work at height. In other words you can work at height if you have to, but then you must use the safest practicable methods and equipment. You can’t just decide to do ALL your work with a ladder, you must first rule out safer methods on a job-by-job basis.

Reg 4(5) is important. It says you must minimise the distance and consequences of a fall. This means that the choice of work methods and equipment is extremely controlled – for example a random decision to use fall arrest instead of work restraint would fail this Regulation. The length of lanyards matters, as does the position of anchors and lifelines. The consequences of a fall include the medical and rescue aspects of the incident. This means that falls likely to cause above-normal injury must be prevented (such as through or onto glass, barbed wire, electricity, chemicals, etc) and that procedures and planning must be in place to deal with the medical effects of being suspended in a harness – in other words you have to plan how to deal with suspension trauma.

Regulation 7

Following on from Reg 6, this requires that you use the best choice of equipment (PPE, work platforms, ladders, access machinery and so forth) so that the safest and most efficient work can be performed. The idea in 7(1)a of collective protection measures (nets, airbags and so forth) reflect the fact that in some situations they can offer greater safety for large workforces – such as in construction or demolition.

7(1)b(v) again says that the choice of equipment must take into account the need to easily and rapidly evacuate in an emergency. This implies that work equipment cannot cause undue delays in escape or rescue, and that additional equipment may be needed to provide the rescue and evacuation ability (such as an escape system for a crane operator, rescue kits for tower climbers or those using PPE on rooftops, etc).

7(2) is a little obscure but requires that work equipment (ropes, scaffolding, platforms, crawl boards, cranes, etc) are suitably strong and large enough to allow the work to be done safely. This was inserted to deal with substandard or improvised equipment or work platforms.

Regulation 8

This looks more like an index, but it is actually the longest Regulation in the set, as it includes the Schedules attached at the back of the Regs. It basically says that work equipment (everything from guardrails and scaffolding to work platforms, harnesses, airbags, ropes and eyebolts) must comply to one or more of these Schedules. We will cover what each actually say later in this page.

Regulation 9

Fragile surfaces. This is quite a convoluted set of statements, and governs the times and ways you are (and are not) allowed onto or near fragile surfaces (which were defined in Reg 2). Access is graduated and controlled by risk, so in order you must:

Avoid Working Near Or On Fragile Surfaces Unless Really Necessary

If you have to work on or near them, they should be covered or enclosed with guards to support and distribute loads at a safe level.
If you cannot completely cover or enclose them and STILL have to work on or near the surface, then you have to take suitable and sufficient measures to control and limit falls – such as by using PPE harnesses, nets or airbags under the surface, restraint systems, and so forth.

Reg 9(3) requires that fragile surfaces are signed, marked or labelled to warn workers, or if that is not possible then other warning systems (such as notices and training) must be used.

9(4) exempts emergency workers from needing to put up warning signs.

Regulation 10

Falling objects. This is a hugely important Regulation as it is incredibly strict. They say that objects (tools, equipment, materials, parts of buildings, rocks, loose change, even people) simply cannot risk injury to people underneath the workplace. 10(1) says you must do all reasonably practicable to stop these things falling in the first place (securing tools on lanyards, using toe boards, enclosed floors on work platforms, catch netting, etc.), but 10(2) says if there is still a risk of something falling then on no occasion must anyone be in the danger area under where the worker is operating. If you can’t keep the area empty, then you cannot drop anything, ever. 10(3) and 10(4) require that intentionally dropped items (tipped waste, etc) cannot be allowed to risk injury to people – so for example exclusion zones or waste chutes must be used – and that stored material must be stored safely and securely so it cannot collapse or move (such as piles of scaffolding, building materials and so forth).

Regulation 11

A short addition to Reg 10, this requires employers to mark and control access to unsafe areas. It is there to protect ‘other people’ who may not be trained in height working, and so must be protected from risk by exclusion. Unprotected edges (open gates, trenches, holes, etc) must be protected, marked or some other system put into place to keep people away from danger, and the same applies to the areas underneath a hazard where the risk is from being hit by falling objects. One obvious example of this is that any deep excavation (over a metre or so) must be indicated and reasonable measures taken to prevent access (railings, barriers, etc).

Regulation 12

Inspection of work equipment. A long and amazingly important Regulation, this has huge implications on paperwork and policy. It also includes Schedule 7 (which tells you what must be written in an inspection report) but the really dramatic part is how often you need to do the inspections, and who has to see the reports. ‘Work equipment’ means pretty much everything related to height safety/fall prevention/fall arrest – in fact anything that is included in Regulation 8 requires this inspection program to be followed. This therefore includes harnesses, ropes, karabiners, scaffolding, nets, airbags, guardrails, MEWPs, ladders and mobile platforms.

The requirements of clauses 12(1) to 12(4) define when and how often work equipment must be inspected. 12(2) covers all types of equipment and asks for an inspection after installation or assembly, where it may be a safety issue how it has been installed. A lot of equipment will fall into this category, from guardrails and scaffolding to rope access rigging. Some things that don’t include equipment which is not ‘assembled’, such as a cherry picker or a stepladder.

12(3) asks for re-inspections at ‘suitable intervals’. Exactly how often you need to re-inspect is not defined in the WAHR, but instead it’s in the supporting regulations such as LOLER. It is up to the user to decide the frequency of inspections, based on the law and the intensity of use. Clearly 12(3)b demands a re-inspection after an exceptional event, such as someone fall-arresting on an anchor or the overload system on a MEWP activating. Remember that for things like scaffolding, even weather can cause an ‘exceptional circumstance’.

12(4) demands that working platforms of certain classes MUST be inspected every 7 days when in use. The idea of ‘construction work’ exempts some permanent systems like catwalks and gantries, but it certainly covers scaffolding, MEWPs, mobile access towers and similar. You do not have to inspect it 50 times a year, only that when you’re USING it you have to have weekly inspections – so a platform not used for 6 months will have to be inspected before the first use. What is critically important is 12(7), which demands that these 7-day inspections have to be WRITTEN DOWN, have to comply to Schedule 7, and have to be provided within 24 hours. There is a lot of information in Schedule 7, and so a simple tick on a form is not acceptable. A full sheet of writing is needed every week.

It’s important to clarify that this ‘Schedule 7 report’ only applies to WORKING PLATFORMS as covered by 12(4) – so it is not needed for your harnesses, ropes, guardrails or ladders. The inspections of these items still need to be written down – 12(6) says so – but can have far less information.

12(5) says quite simply that evidence of inspection has to accompany work equipment when it’s sold, hired, loaned or borrowed between undertakings. By ‘physical evidence’ it means a label, a paper copy, or something similar. Verbal “oh, that ladder was inspected last week” evidence is not good enough. ‘Undertakings’ mean your business organization – so a company can move equipment around amongst employees without paperwork, but cannot use (or allow to be used) another company’s equipment unless the evidence is there. This will cause most impact on the borrowing of portable ladders.

12(8) to 12(10) define how these ‘WAHR inspections’ relate to LOLER thorough examinations, as some equipment will need those as well (such as abseil equipment, cranes and MEWPs). The wording of 12(9) a is quite complex and horribly easy to misread.. a LOLER R9 TE report can be counted as being a WAHR inspection report except as regards 12(7) and 12(8) – the bits that ask for a Schedule 7 report within 24 hours! This is important because a LOLER R9 TE report doesn’t contain all the info needed in Schedule 7, so for working platforms which come under LOLER, you still need to do both types of report.

Regulation 13

Inspection of work equipment. Tiny in comparison to Reg 11, this adds in the need to check the workplace as well as the equipment. The safety of the surface and the state of safety equipment must be checked before the workplace is used, where it is reasonably practicable. One interesting by product of this Reg is that those doing the work are usually the only people on the site, and so they would have to be competent in checking these factors.

Regulation 14

Duties of persons at work. A lot of the Regs apply to ’employers’, but this details what the actual workforce must do – basically they have to report anything unsafe, and to follow the training and instruction they have been given by their employer.

Regulation 15

Reg 15 allows the HSE to exempt other classes from these Regs if they decide to, and is a normal clause in these forms of law, to allow easy modification in the future. Hypothetically, for example if another sport was found to need the exemption that caving and climbing now have, then the HSE could use this Reg to grant that exemption without having to change the law.

Regulation 16

This allows specific and controlled exemptions in the interests of national security, and is another standard clause as is Reg 15. The Regulations apply to the Armed Forces for all their non-operational work (training, etc), but in some operational roles there is obviously a need to change the rules.

Regulations 17-19

These change and revoke other sets of Regulations and Acts that would otherwise contradict the new WAHR.