Work at height has become a feature of most industrialised economies. In recent years, much has been learned from techniques and equipment developed by rock climbers and cavers and these lessons have assisted in the development of tools and techniques designed specifically for application within built up industrial environments.

Work at height can be identified as work performed where there is a risk of injury from a fall or at a height of more than 3 meters above ground level (as defined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (full version), which incorporates the Construction regulations (GNR.1010, 18 th July 2003).

The risk posed by working at height can be managed in numerous ways – but can be broken down into four main categories :

Fall prevention

Fall prevention – other wise known as work restraint systems. Risk is minimised by keeping the worker from getting too close to the edge & therefore falling. These methods are particularly applicable to work on roofs, quarries and on scaffolding.

Fall arrest

Fall arrest – the term is used to describe a method of accessing remote and exposed points on a structure (tower, building, oil rig etc.), in order to carry out some form of work (painting, cleaning, inspection, installation, repair etc.), which does not involve abseiling on ropes. Common techniques include clipping up a lattice work using shock absorbing lanyards & pylon hooks and the use of fall arrest systems such as FallProtec. There is some risk of a fall, but the worker does not require much expertise in order to protect himself.

Rope Access

Rope Access -Industrial Rope Access involves the use of ropes for abseiling & ascending to gain a safe work position at height or in areas of difficult access. It was initially developed from techniques used in caving to answer the need for a simple, safe and adaptable means of access with its first large scale use being for inspections on the oil and gas platforms of the North Sea. As its value as a work solution grew, rope access has also developed onshore where it is to be seen undertaking all manner of work from high-rise window and facade cleaning and general maintenance to repair, geotechnical and inspection work on some of the world’s most iconic structures. A worker in these environments is exposed to a high level of risk and requires extensive training in order to gain the expertise necessary to operate safely.

Rescue & recovery

Rescue & recovery – unfortunately accidents do happen. Furthermore equipment used to save a life can also add to the complexity of the rescue process – for example; a worker can find himself dangling beneath a walk way with no means to get back up. In addition, some rescues require that a second person enter the danger zone in order to execute the rescue. All these complications add to the levels of risk and require yet greater levels of training, expertise & a bigger arsenal of equipment.