Scaffolding on building
Scaffolding to allow safe access during repair work © Historic England
Scaffolding to allow safe access during repair work © Historic England

Keeping Safe When Working On an Older Home

Keeping safe when carrying out a maintenance check or repair work on your home is mostly a matter of common sense.

If you have employed professionals to work on your building they have to adhere to statutory health and safety controls. If you are doing work yourself, there are a number of things to bear in mind.

Getting safe access

As well as not taking any unnecessary risks yourself, make sure you’re not endangering passers-by or blocking public access such as a pavement.


You are most likely to be using a ladder if doing work yourself, as they’re comparatively cheap and easy to use. They are handy for clearing debris from gutters or doing a quick maintenance check, but should only be used to gain access, not as a working platform.

Make sure the ladder is securely clipped or tied, or that someone else is holding it steady for you. If you need regular ladder access to a specific place in or outside your home, consider fixing an eyebolt to which you can secure the ladder easily when you need to.

For further information, please see the Health and Safety Executive's advice on ladders.


If you need to hire scaffolding there are two main types. ‘Independent tied’ scaffolds are erected close to the building and then ‘tied’ to it for horizontal stability, so are fixed in place. For significant buildings the methods of tying to the building may be limited to prevent irreversible damage to the building.  Dependent on where access is required to, it maybe necessary to use a ‘freestanding’ scaffold which is not tied to the building and needs to be designed.  This is generally more expensive.  Mobile scaffold towers are freestanding scaffolds. They are cheap and quick to erect, but they are less easy to use at a significant height, in confined spaces or on steeply sloping ground.

Mobile elevated platforms

Hydraulic platforms are less complicated than scaffolding as they provide an almost instant means of access and can then be removed as quickly. Scissor lifts are difficult to use in confined spaces or on steep or rough ground. 'Cherry pickers', with the working platform on an articulated telescopic boom, have a higher and longer reach – useful for hard-to-access areas set further back from the front of your house. If being used above basements, care should be given that the structures below are able to carry the weight of the access platforms.

Hazardous materials

Working with hazardous materials such as asbestos is covered by health and safety legislation, and their removal must always be subject to a risk assessment. Any specialist contractor you employ should take all appropriate precautions to protect not only those working with the material, but also everyone else in the house and the general public.

You should also be aware of the dangers of dealing with old layers of paint or clearing up debris left by birds.


If you think there may be materials containing asbestos within your home you should contact a specialist. They will first carry out a survey to find out if there is asbestos-containing material, and if so how much and where it is. This will determine what actions you need to take. The Health and Safety Executive has published Frequently Asked Questions for members of the public on dealing with asbestos.

Lead-based paint

Until the 1960s paints containing lead were common, and it is wise to assume that some proportion of lead will be present in pre-1960s paintwork. The use of lead paints is still permitted in some listed buildings (see Paint Legislation and Historic Buildings).

If you suspect or know that there are white lead paints in your home it is best to cover them up under another coating or get them removed safely (see Defra’s leaflet on Advice on Lead Paint in Older Homes).


Dust from infected droppings or guano, feathers, or nesting birds can cause lung infections if inhaled.

Bird droppings should first be wetted to eliminate dust and then put in sealed plastic bags. As a homeowner you’re most likely to be dealing with small quantities, which can be bagged up and disposed of in domestic dustbins, but larger quantities must be handled by a Registered Waste Carrier.