What are safety standards?

Safety standards, or health and safety regulations, are guidelines developed to minimize the risks associated with various industrial activities and equipment. These regulations address elements such as safe design, materials to be used, operating procedures, and the necessary qualifications for operators.

For example, the ISO 12100 standard provides guidelines for risk management and general principles of machine design, emphasizing the importance of identifying and mitigating risks from the design phase. These standards serve as a cornerstone in preventing workplace accidents and protecting employee health by defining the minimum safety requirements that equipment and processes must meet.

Safety standards pyramid
Safety standards pyramid

What are the safety standards for working at height?

In the context of working at height, specific safety standards aim to prevent falls of persons or objects, which can lead to serious injuries or fatalities. The EN 280 standard, for instance, sets out the requirements and testing methods for the design, manufacture, and performance of mobile elevating work platforms, including aspects such as stability, control systems, and fall protection devices.

Another example is the ANSI/SIA A92 standard in the United States, which establishes similar criteria for the safety of elevating platforms. These standards ensure that equipment used for working at height is not only designed to safely bear loads but also includes essential safety features such as guardrails and emergency stop systems.

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UK Safety Standards

Safety standards applicable to elevating work platforms are closely related to specific regulations like PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998) and LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998) in the UK. These two sets of regulations ensure the safety of work equipment and lifting operations, complementing the general safety standards.


PUWER requires that all equipment used at work be suitable for its intended use, properly maintained, and safe for use by those who operate it. This includes requirements for the equipment to be fitted with appropriate control devices, emergency stop systems, protections against mechanical hazards, and for operators to be trained and informed about safe equipment use. The safety standards for elevating work platforms, for example, specify design and functionality requirements that align with PUWER’s obligations regarding equipment safety and maintenance.


LOLER specifically focuses on lifting operations and equipment used to lift and lower loads, including elevating work platforms. This regulation demands that lifting equipment be sufficiently strong, stable, and positioned or installed to prevent risk of injury, which includes regular inspection and thorough examination of the lifting equipment. Safety standards applicable to elevating work platforms detail criteria such as load capacity, fall protection devices, and stability that are essential for complying with LOLER.

In practice, adhering to safety standards for elevating work platforms facilitates compliance with PUWER and LOLER, as these standards define safety criteria that cover key aspects of these regulations. Adherence to these standards and regulations ensures not only legal compliance but also plays a vital role in preventing accidents and protecting the health of operators and other workers on site.

Aerial work platform rental companies have the responsibility to provide equipment that complies with all current safety standards, such as European directives, OSHA regulations in the United States, or specific UK standards like PUWER and LOLER.

Evolution of safety standards

The history of safety standards reflects the evolution of our collective understanding of industrial risks and how to mitigate them. In the 19th century, rapid industrialization led to an increase in workplace accidents, highlighting the need for safety regulations. Initially, these standards were disparate and unstandardized, often dictated by responses to specific accidents.

Over time, the accumulation of technical and medical knowledge allowed for the development of more systematic and evidence-based standards, such as those published by ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). These organizations have contributed to the development of global frameworks for machine and equipment safety, thereby facilitating the adoption of uniform safety practices worldwide.

Who governs safety standards

Safety standards in the US

OSHA, created by the US Congress in 1970, plays a crucial role in implementing workplace safety standards. It develops regulations that define employers’ obligations to ensure safe work environments. For example, OSHA 1926.453 specifically regulates the use of elevating work platforms in construction, imposing requirements such as operator training and daily equipment inspection.

Safety Standards in the EU

In the European Union, directives like the Machinery Directive (2006/42/EC) play a critical role. They require that equipment placed on the European market be designed and manufactured to ensure the safety and health of users. The EN 280 standard, as previously mentioned, is an example of how these directives are implemented through harmonized standards, thereby facilitating the free movement of safe machinery within the EU.

Safety Standards in the UK

Following Brexit, the UK adopted the UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) marking, a new compliance mark for certain products, including work at height equipment, marketed in Great Britain. This marking ensures that these products meet British safety standards, which are often aligned with those of the EU but with certain adaptations specific to the British context.

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) plays a pivotal role in developing, publishing, and enforcing these standards in the UK. For example, the HSE provides detailed guidance on the safe use of elevating work platforms, covering operator training, equipment maintenance, and periodic inspections,based on international and European standards, tailored to the specific requirements of the UK.

Sanctions for non-compliance

Failing to adhere to safety standards can lead to severe sanctions, designed to reflect the severity of the breach and its potential impact on employee and public safety. Penalties can range from relatively modest amounts for minor infringements to significant sums for serious violations, potentially reaching millions in some cases.

Beyond fines, companies may be issued with corrective orders, compelling them to address non-compliance issues within a specified timeframe. In particularly severe situations, this can include the temporary suspension or permanent cessation of operations.

Sanctions may also have a criminal dimension, especially when employer negligence results in serious accidents or fatalities. In such cases, company directors or managers can be subjected to criminal prosecution, leading to imprisonment for the individuals responsible.

In the United States, OSHA can refer the most serious cases to the Department of Justice for criminal proceedings, while in Europe and the UK, similar actions can be initiated under respective national jurisdictions.

UK sanctions

In the UK, the HSE is responsible for enforcing safety standards. Non-compliance can result in unlimited fines and, in extreme cases, imprisonment for company executives. The HSE has the authority to issue improvement notices and prohibition notices, forcing businesses to halt dangerous activities until compliance is achieved. UK legislation, such as the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, also allows for the prosecution of companies in the event of death due to safety breaches.

These punitive measures highlight the critical importance of complying with safety standards. They aim not only to penalize infractions but also to foster a culture of safety within industries, constantly reminding businesses and workers of the paramount importance of safety.

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