Working at height – What are the consequences?

A few  weeks ago, a minimum wage worker at a construction site was instructed by his supervisor to assist another worker to dismantle a four lift scaffold structure.The supervisor threw a couple of harnesses and said, “Put these on and get upon the scaffold” When one worker told him that he is incapable for this task, his supervisor told him to obey instructions or otherwise he’d be fired.

But are you as an employer really allowing such a thing? No. You aren’t. You’re simply doing the best you can. This is one of those situations where you need to put the onus of responsibility where it belongs: squarely on your shoulders as an employer.

I enforced workplace health and safety law for almost two decades now, and this case stands out to me, because it so clearly exemplifies why all of us should careabout workers’ rights – the right to provide information and training. But what happens if you don’t? What are the consequences of not ensuring people working at height are trained?

By way of context it is helpful to start by considering how the Courts approach employers or directors who fail to comply with the OHSA and the Regulations.

On February 2019,the directors of a construction company and a foreman were fined almost €35,000 between them after they were found responsible for the death of a man who fell from height of nine storeys. The Legal Notice 88 of 2018 defines working at heights to be where any person may fall to a lower level liable to cause personal injury. The distances involved do not need to be great as nine storeys since injuries can also be sustained should an individual fall a relatively short distance .

So it stands to reason that working at heights adds an element of risk to what may already be a dangerous job. Gravity has a habit of punishing even the slightest mistake and the fact of construction deaths from falls is surprisingly high. It must be repeated that one death is too many, as every death represents the loss of aloved one.

Given the seriousness of the issue, what is the underlying cause? These events are usually due to poor management control rather than equipment failure . Working at heights will involve a level of supervision and ongoing training and instruction, as well as regular review of the effectiveness of the systems and procedures that you might have put in place.

There is an awesome amount of information available on the internet related to working at height, including the risks, injuries and the safe method systems for working at heights. You can also find court sentences when self employed,contractors or companies are fined ; what  we cannot find are the feelings of devastation and mental cost that workers and companies who have been involved in a fall incur.


 The most important element of occupational health and safety is prevention. The danger of falling at height is real and can bring devastating consequences.

So, if you are self-employed, it is your responsibility to ensure you have completed all the necessary training to do your job. If you’re contracted to a building

project and using access platforms for your operatives , it is  up to  you to make sure you have the appropriate  equipment  and training certification. If you are the main contractor or client, you should never hire external contractors who do not have the relevant qualifications if working at height is part of the job.

First Edition (March/April)

health & safety

Michael Spiteri

With over 25 years of safety experience, Michael is an accredited occupational health and safety competent person. He has seen and experienced the challenges faced by the building and manufacturing industries, port operations and service providers. – where his knowledge, experience and expertise in the field of event health & safety is un-paralleled. He has devised and written a number of training courses aimed specifically for the building industry and these courses have provided industry professionals with the necessary knowledge to confidently dispense their duties with both moral and legislative compliance. Michael is graduated in Social Studies and Industrial Relations . He is currently a training instructor at BICC.

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