Find details how landscape contractors and workers on site should be managing work on banks and slopes

The definition

The Cambridge dictionary defines a bank as ‘Sloping raised land, especially along the sides of a river’ and a slope as ‘a surface that lies at an angle to the horizontal so that some points on it are higher than others.

Where landscape works are concerned, the terms are often applied to any area of land that includes a gradient.  It is this gradient that may pose a hazard to operatives carrying out landscape works – either construction or maintenance – as part of a one-off project or regular maintenance programme.

Working on slopes or banks poses a hazard, which must be managed to ensure the following:

  • Works on banks and slopes are properly planned
  • Risks associated with works on banks and slopes are assessed and control measures put in place
  • Works are carried out by properly equipped, competent workers
  • Works are supervised and monitored

Hazards associated with working on banks and slopes include:

Moving vehicle

  • Operatives being hit by a moving vehicle
  • Operatives being injured by machinery overturning (note: this machinery may include pedestrian operated machinery such as mowers as well as ride-on machinery such as tractors and mowers)

Manual handling

  • Slips and trips associated with the terrain
  • Being struck by an object/projectile from machinery

Unfortunately, over the past few years several accidents have resulted from poor management of works on slopes, which have resulted in operative fatalities and significant fines for employers. Common reasons for accidents include:

  • Works not planned by a competent person
  • Risk assessment not adequate or site specific
  • Unsafe system of work
  • Untrained operator with no knowledge of working on slopes
  • Machine operating outside manufacturers recommendations
  • Inadequate supervision and management

Works on slopes must always be planned to control the significant risks:

  • Workers must be adequately trained, having been provided with information required to carry out the works safely

Any subcontractors must be selected and managed appropriately

  • Appropriate equipment must be used for the task
  • A safe system of work must be identified
  • Works must be supervised, monitored and reviewed periodically

Risk assessments are essential to the works, and should include the following elements:

  • Generic elements
  • Site specific elements
  • Dynamic components
  • Suitable and efficient

When carrying out a risk assessment for works on slopes and banks, the following should be considered:

Does the work need to be carried out at all? Could an alternative be considered?

Alternatives to sowing grass and mowing an area include:

  • Planting
  • Spraying (note: operating a sprayer on a bank or slope is also likely to pose a hazard which must be managed)
  • Alternative surface type

The scale and steepness of the slope should be thoroughly assessed - applications for phones are available for this task. 

The following should also be considered:

  • Access/egress to slope
  • Topography
  • Run-off areas

Identify who is at risk from the operation

  • Operator
  • Members of public
  • Property
  • Traffic

Equipment considerations

  • Consider which equipment is suitable:  ride-on/pedestrian /remote controlled
  • Roll-over protection system (ROPS)
  • Seatbelts
  • Maintenance schedule for equipment followed
  • Note working angles specified by equipment manufacturer
  • Consider use of specialist equipment/contractor

Weather and surface conditions throughout maintenance period and potential for change in terrain


  • Review operative competence and identify specific training requirements in relation to either equipment or general working procedures
  • Consider also training for supervisors and managers

This article has been adopted from a presentation given by Andrew Turner of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). A link to the original presentation is given in the ‘additional resources’ section at the bottom of this article. 

Additional resources

HSE guidance 

Andrew Turner presentation