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Written by
on 15 May 2015


Make Sure You Have a Head for Heights – Debunking Some Popular Myths

health and safety myths for working at height Working from heights can be pretty tricky at the best of times. But if you’re trying to make sense of the health and safety rules around it too?

We know it ain’t easy.

To make things even more complicated, there are all kinds of myths popping up over what you can – and can’t do! So we’ve decided to put the record straight. Read on to find out the facts behind some of the most common myths around this topic:

Myth: Ladders are banned!

We’ve heard this one bandied around a fair bit. While it’s true that using ladders in an unsafe way could result in trouble – that doesn’t mean that they’ve been banned outright!

In fact, ladders are pretty handy. And practical. They’re a perfectly fine option to use when you’re in a low risk situation, and you don’t plan on spending very long – a maximum of 30 minutes is suggested by HSE.

Myth: Ok. So you can use ladders. But you need a formal qualification, right?

Wrong! The key word to remember here is ‘competence’.

That means anyone using a ladder – or any other general tool – should have the skills, knowledge and experience to be able to know how to use it safely.

You don’t need a formal certificate to do that.

Myth: You’re supposed to keep two feet and one hand on the ladder, at all times

We can see where this one comes from. After all, standing on a ladder and waving your arms around isn’t exactly the safest thing you could be doing, right?

But it doesn’t mean you have to keep a hand gripping the ladder at all times. What is required is keeping three points of contact, while you’re in a working position.

So this could mean using your hand, knees or chest to support your body, while you work.

Myth: But using ladders to access scaffolds is still banned!

Nope. Not true. You can use ladders, but there are a couple of important points you need to note. The ladder needs to be the right type for the job and environment, and it should be properly secured so that it doesn’t move around.

Myth: Climbing staircases counts as working from a height.

This is definitely one of the nuttier ones we’ve seen! Climbing a staircase – even if it’s inside a pretty tall building – doesn’t count as working from heights.

Working at a height means that you are working above ground or floor level, and you could be at risk of falling a significant distance to a lower level, that could cause injury.

And before you ask, slips and trips don’t count either!

Your takeaway points

  • Ladders are definitely not But make sure you’re using the right type of ladder for the job – and if you’re accessing scaffolding, that it’s properly secured
  • You don’t need a formal qualification to use them but you should be competent
  • You don’t need to keep both feet and one hand on a ladder at all times, but can use your chest/knees etc
  • And climbing staircases does not count as working at height!

What are the strangest health and safety myths you’ve heard? Share them with us!

About the author

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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