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Working at Height – Approaching compliance to the new standard BS7883

The highest price does not always mean the highest quality, therefore, assessing a purchase based on a product or service’s ability to meet business requirements and successful past performance are vital to ensuring quality takes precedence over the enticement of a low price.

We live in a culture where the budget amount is the driving force when determining the price paid for a product or service, however, after pondering on the above quote I began to wonder if we could possibly be working backwards?

If the goal of purchasing a product or service is quality, then creating a budget prior to knowing the amount of financial obligation is like putting the cart before the horse.

In 2021/22 there were a total of 123 deaths through work related accidents. The most common kinds of fatal accidents to workers in this period continued to be falls from a height, with a total of 29, so surely quality and expertise should always take precedence over low price. 

Typical preventable accidents

Causes of typical accidents involving working at height include using ladders and stepladders incorrectly, overstretching from ladders and standing on benches or chairs to reach high surfaces. Accidents can also involve access equipment, such as mobile elevated work platforms (MEWP) and suspended access equipment (SAE) such as window cleaning cradles. The big question is how can a business keep its workers safe, and stay compliant with its legal and regulatory obligations?

This article is focused on one of the important elements of Working at Height, the ability of companies to comply with BS7883:2019 Personal fall protection equipment – Anchor systems – System design, installation, and inspection – Code of practice.

This relatively new standard provides a framework to achieve compliance with legal duties for System Designers, Installers, Inspectors, and managers (Duty Holders) of fall protection systems.

It is a tough standard to comply with and many stakeholders across multiple sectors do not currently comply with it. BS7883 has changed nothing in terms of the fundamental legal duty to ensure a safe system, so far as reasonably practicable, yet many clients are struggling to fully understand how they comply with this adequately. 

Planning is Key

The law on working at height requires employers to consider the risk assessment when organising and planning work. That’s how the precautions required can be identified and work carried out with optimum safety. The HSE’s clear advice is to avoid working at height whenever it is reasonably practicable to do so. But of course, there are times when working at height is unavoidable. That’s when employers must make sure that the people doing the work are trained and competent, and that the equipment provided is suitable, properly maintained and will be correctly used. This is why BS7883:2019 is so important. 

Due to the nature of any British standard, you will find that it will present clients with technical, financial, procedural and cultural challenges, so what type of approaches do we normally see within the market? 

1 – Ignore the requirement to comply

Compliance with technical standards is not a legal duty, however if the processes used do not comply, there should be an alternative and equivalent methodology in place to demonstrate that a safe system has been provided. It would be inefficient to create a new process when this standard now provides one.

The consequence of non-compliance would be that those with responsibility for planning or managing the work at height would fail to demonstrate adequate safety, which could be construed as negligence.

2 – Wait for the market to shift to general compliance from general non-compliance

There is a duty to provide safe systems of work so far as is reasonably practicable and this can be considered as balancing cost against risks. There would need to be an immediate justification for waiting to comply.

3 – Take a structured approach to transition

If the manager of the fall protection systems and the inspector review and risk assess how systems are used and introduce a structured approach to achieving compliance, this could be considered as a reasonably practicable approach.

There will probably be short-term, significant, cost increases for inspection work, but these should peak and then decrease after the first compliant inspection. In the longer term, overall costs may be lower.

Short-term control measures, such as restrictions on use, higher requirements for user competency and/or short-term removal from service could be utilised during the period that it takes to implement engineering or information (documents/signage) changes required to achieve compliance.  

Additionally, systems may be inspected and rated as “Conditional Pass” where it can be proven they are safe to remain in service but are not yet fully compliant. They could remain at this status indefinitely if this can be shown to be a reasonably practicable approach.

4 – Aim for immediate full compliance

Whilst this is the most desirable option, it will be difficult to achieve in the short term. There will be many situations where required information is not available and additional time and resources will need to be employed to find or generate it. It may be considered as not reasonably practicable to take this approach.


Companies must be sure they are offering the benefits customers seek when it comes to complying with BS7883:2019. There are so many different moving parts, and it’s about making sure the correct customer priorities are focused on compliance with this standard. It’s important to engage with a professional provider who can help define the key steps of activity and actions that will be required to make sure you are complaint with all elements of this standard. 

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