Working at height is a specialist area. In fact it is a subject made up of many areas of specialism, some of which are viewed as a “black art.” Choosing an adviser within these layers of specialism is itself a challenging project.

Stale Advice and Breadth

The first issue is to recognise that height safety “is” a specialist subject. It’s true that falls from height still cause the greatest number of deaths and serious injuries at work and that many general safety advisers have some knowledge of the subject. This knowledge often forms part of a much broader remit, and is rarely kept up to date. This “general safety” source of advice may therefore be stale. The range of solutions within height safety is dynamic. It is subject to extensive change in Standards, Regulations, accepted best practice and also product and solution development. It is both demanding and difficult to maintain expertise in this area, and all too often using a general safety adviser can perpetuate miss-information and problems from the past.

Having now accepted the need for a height safety specialist the next common problem, often faced at the very beginning of the search, is that many of the consultants who proffer advice in this area do so from a limited range of experience. If you ask a scaffold advisor about an access method, he will offer you a scaffolding solution, if you ask the same question of a rope access specialist his answer will be different. Very often the individuals advising on the various layers of specialism within work at height do so from an extensive expertise in one specific field. They will give you great confidence in their knowledge of their solution type, but is it the best solution for your problem ?

So the next desire is one of breadth, you need to find an adviser whose knowledge spans the whole spectrum of solution types, and who is as comfortable within the details of scaffolding design, as in the support requirements for the “black art” of rope access.

No Free Lunch

The next problem stems from the high volume of freely available advice. This free advice is invariably tainted, and it frequently leads to commercial handcuffs. It is also restricted by product and by the expertise mentioned above. To make free advice worthwhile, you have to know enough about your problem and your range of solutions to be confident that you have already chosen the best one. All you really need if you have reached this stage, is a detailed specification for your chosen solution, and even now commercial dilution can corrode things. Most projects jump for free advice/specification too early, and have missed a whole range of alternative solutions already. These remain invisible as the free advisor is now defending his specification.

Process driven solutions

The best route to solution for any work at height problem is to patiently and sequentially follow the hierarchy within the Regulations. This will involve spanning a vast forest of options and alternatives, and could even start at a design review to check if the restrictions being considered can be designed out.

The process will then involve looking at the viability, both practical and commercial, of a range of solutions and the downstream consequences of each. These options should then be whittled down and a more detailed analysis completed for the most viable, with costing, and analysis of the interface with other aspects of the project.

To plot a course through this forest of options and alternatives, to reach the best solution for a given height safety application, you will need a guide… your height safety consultant.

Your guide will need a deep and detailed technical knowledge of all aspects of the various solution types, as well as the relevant Standards, loadings, and practical aspects of best practice. They will also need to understand design, have a detailed knowledge of the various methods through which buildings are assembled, and of the practical implications to programme and work sequence of the whole range of solution types.

Your guide should be a height safety specialist, and be independent of all bias, from brands, solution types, and installation contractors. Your guide should be able to offer hierarchically based, detailed advice on all levels within the work at height hierarchy. Your guide should be as comfortable talking about access options to a jump-form core shutter, the underside of an oil rig platform, or a gantry crane rail; as discussing the bracing requirements of designed scaffold supporting a temporary roof, or an abseiling anchor system for stabilising a rock cutting. Your guide should help you explore all the options in an informed and organised way, following the work at height hierarchy, and should lead you to your optimum solution down an explained and reasoned path. Should you ever need to review or justify your thinking, the route you followed will be clear and recorded.

What do I need ? 

So to sum up, you need a specialist height safety consultant who is knowledgeable, impartial, and independent from manufacturers, suppliers, systems, and installers. They need to have deep detailed technical knowledge of all aspects of work at height, and be able to offer a comprehensive and integrated range of solutions. They also need to have sufficient practical knowledge to ensure their advice is pragmatic and the solution is fit for purpose.