Construction industry needs to look at internal fall protection

Date published: 08 March 2016

HSENI is reminding the construction industry about the importance of internal fall protection when working at heights.

Hierarchy of fall protection

A major concern

Falls from height remain one of the biggest causes of death, disability and injury in construction and are of great concern to HSENI.

Many contractors have got to grips with external fall protections and safe work platforms, such as perimeter scaffolding and MEWPS. However, some don’t realise the need for internal fall protection during work at height, such as:

  • stripping and dismantling roofs
  • refurbishing roofs
  • installing joists or roof trusses
  • fixing battens or tile supports and roof tiles
  • installing concrete floor slabs or stairs
  • working near or over fragile surfaces
  • working adjacent to voids in the floor

A hierarchy of fall protection

The Work at Height Regulations (NI) 2005 set out a hierarchy of fall protection measures to be taken when planning or carrying out work at height, including work internal to the building, as follows: 

  • avoid work at height
  • use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls
  • use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distances and consequences of a fall should one occur

This hierarchy has to be followed systematically, and only when one level is not reasonably practicable may the next level down be considered.

Types of internal fall protection include:

  • proprietary decking systems
  • birdcage scaffold
  • safety trellis (extendable aluminium trellis)
  • boarding out the inside of the roof using timber
  • inserting air bags/bean bags as soft landing systems

Safety nets are useful - so long as there is adequate clearance below and anchorage points which have been assessed by a competent person prior to the nets being installed.

Harnesses should be the last option considered, and only used by workers who have been trained in their use and the use planned by someone competent to take into account:

  • the circumstances
  • strength and location of available anchor points
  • type/length of lanyard
  • suspension height and obstacles
  • means of rescue

Internal voids

It is often necessary to create internal voids in buildings under construction or find existing ones in buildings being refurbished.

Planning ahead to anticipate when these voids will constitute a risk to workers is essential.

Key things to consider include using mesh guards or covers which are permanently fixed into concrete floors – these provide protection to all workers throughout the job.

Where coverings on the floor are used these must be robust, securely fixed and signed.

You can protect voids from underneath by using fixed scaffold.

If you carry out short duration works around the void, you should provide protection, for example, scaffold underneath.

Fragile materials

Falls through fragile materials are a particular problem in both the roof construction and building maintenance sectors.

If possible, arrange the job to avoid working or passing near fragile material. If this is unavoidable, you should identify all fragile materials and put safety precautions in place.

Some fragile roof materials may give a false sense of security to those who are working on them or passing by them. They may be capable of carrying some distributed load, giving the impression that they can bear a person’s weight, but they might not carry a concentrated load such as the heel of someone walking, or a person stumbling and falling.

It is still a common but fatal belief that it is safe to walk along the line of roof bolts above a purlin, but this is like walking a tightrope, where one false step or loss of balance can lead to disaster.

Planning is vital to ensure safety before the work begins, so that it can be carried out safely, efficiently and without undue delay. The client must make sure that the individual or company is competent to do the work, whether this is carrying out the construction work or installing the safety measures.

When developing the construction phase health and safety plan, the principal contractor should include the safety measures required where there is work at height.


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