The hidden dangers of working at height

When it comes to working at height safely, don’t be caught out by hidden dangers. Environmental change can happen at any time which requires workers to be vigilant in looking for a change in risk profile.

Being prepared for all circumstances comes with experience but can also come with some forward planning.

Here are some common elements that people overlook or don’t think to consider in relation to height safety.

Weather hazards

The requirements for working on roofs can change with the weather conditions. A change in weather conditions can compromise safely as quickly as the sky turns black.

  • Wet weather can cause slippery conditions, appropriate footwear should be worn at all times.
  • High winds or gusts can threaten workers balance and affect roof or work platform stability.
  • Too much sun can cause sun stroke which in turn can cause a fall. Be sun safe when working in direct sunlight and wear eye protection and a hat.
  • Weather can impair visibility, affecting balance and awareness. The sun’s position in the sky may also affect line of sight to safety or other workers.

Workers need to be trained to identify when to have a break. When weather conditions threaten safety, it’s time to stop.

Be prepared for the weather, check the reports for the day and be aware of how long it will take to get the work crew down from the roof. Depending on the project, anchorage points for a personal fall arrest system should be considered.

Falling objects

Expect the unexpected in assessing whether there are risks of falling objects around the work site.

Take measures to prevent objects from falling. If it’s not practicable to prevent objects from falling, take measures to ensure that in the event of items becoming dislodged they won’t cause workers to fall.

Ways to plan for falling objects include;

  • Removal of items
  • Use of mesh on scaffold
  • Exclusion zones to keep workers away from danger zones
  • Store materials safely
  • Use tool tethering devices

Roof pitches

Steep roofs come with obvious safety risks. Lower pitched roofs can also present a high degree of risk, not least through worker complacency or in inclement weather conditions.

Ensuring a safe platform from the ladder to roof deck is essential on any roof pitch. Establishing slide guards and catch platforms can significantly help to reduce the risk of serious injury.


Many accidents relating to working at height involve skylights. As they fade or becoming more brittle they are a serious fall hazard. They can blend in with roof sheets or be obscured.

When planning the working at height safety system, ensure all skylights are accounted for, made visible then secured with skylight protectors or guard rails or be excluded from work zones.

Condition of roof, environment or safety system

The condition of the work site and height safety system should be checked at the start of every working day. This is particularly poignant following a storm or severe weather conditions. It also helps mitigate the risk of poor housekeeping,

A checklist can be followed with a series of points that relate to the work site. It is crucial that the checklist reflects the evolving worksite and is updated as the site or conditions change.

Walking on roofs

When walking along a roof wear smooth soft-soled shoes where possible, avoid ribbed soles that can pick up small objects or get caught. Walking close to the roofing supports with weight evenly distributed over the soles of both feet is generally a good idea.

Evacuation plan

Agreeing and communicating a set procedure for evacuation is essential. All workers should know the procedure for foreseeable situations and the steps to follow in the case of an emergency taking place while working at height.

Fall arrest systems need to be inspected annually to ensure compliance. It is also essential that the site is inspected at the start of each working day and that checklists include ‘hidden dangers’ and an awareness of any changes from one day to the next.