What is a Steep Slope

What is a steep slope?

It seems a simple question – “What is a steep slope”.

However it’s massively open to opinion – what actually is a steep slope! Is it for leisure or work?

SO here’s our opinion for Working on a steep slope.

A steep slope is above 33 degrees – based on the angle of stairs…

Really? – Well let’s take a look.

Falling down a steep slope

When is a slope… steep

According to the Oxford Dictionaries definition:


“A surface of which one end or side is at a higher level than another; a rising or falling surface”

“he slithered helplessly down the slope”


“rising or falling sharply; nearly perpendicular”


Basically reads, not steep!

So when we were asked to deliver Slopes training to our students, usually for work on the railways we have had to try to define “slopes”

For example

We can probably all get up or down a hill, but if we are working, focused on doing a task, the ground type and the weather can all have an impact

A scramble up steep rocks could be easy

A walk up or down a shallow muddy slope in the rain or ice could be dangerous


Someone could get hurt?

Am I Working at Height? Yes

Work at height

“(where) a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”

(Health and Safety Executive definition)

People could be, and have been injured falling down slopes

It’s the law, Work at Height Regulations (2005), we have to put measures in place.

However, those protective measures can vary, based on whether the person can move/work and support their own weight on the slope.

Work restraint – a rope (or other system) is there to stop you from getting into a position where you may take a fall, only coming under tension if you stumble and fall.

For example – a dog on a lead. The dog trots along beside the owner, the lead only comes under tension in an emergency to restrain the dog if it tries to run into danger.

Work positioning – the person is fully weighting the rope and if that system fails, the safety rope (2nd system) will catch the person before falling a distance liable to cause personal injury.

Slope angle

We’ve used stairs as a common slope, 

ironically – for this example – using stairs is NOT working at height!


Stairs are about 33 degrees, and are a common thing we can relate to…

(I know there is a range, so we picked the middle!)

stair slope gradient


If the slope is below 33 degrees – it’s a shallow slope

If the slope is above 33 degrees – it’s steep

A shallow slope – a person can move and support their own weight = work restraint

A steep slope – a person (at some point) needs a rope or system to support their weight = work positioning


The angle of which can vary massively dependent on the ground conditions, the weather the task being done and even the fitness / competence of the person on the slope.

It’s more than just the angle or pitch of a slope…

Ground type

Differing soils or rocks can be solid to walk on and will happily take your weight, but some may slide under foot or be uneven causing a person to be unstable.


Before working the slope

Flowing or standing water, other substances and ice can make the most sturdy slope slippy – even hot/dry ground can crack causing the ground to fail and move uncontrollably.

During your time on the slope

Rain, wind and snow can seriously affect the environment and a persons ability to remain stable enough to move and work safely – the more exposed to the weather, the more likely the chance of falling down the slope.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

As well as any harness or rope system you need to be safe on the slope…

A reflective jacket won’t make a physical difference – unless you are actually working near the railway or in the wilds and being looked for by a helicopter! 

However, decent boots (ankle support and tread), gloves, hat, warm, waterproof and breathable layers of clothing will help prevent you or a team mate becoming a casualty.

Fitness and Confidence

Everyone is different and that needs to be acknowledged and recognised. 

People’s fitness, weight distribution, experience, skill and confidence will determine how comfortable they are in differing conditions on varying gradients, undertaking whichever task they are required to do. 

So What is a Steep slope?

The angle and name are almost irrelevant. What matters is whether you can move and work on it standing on your own feet, or if you need assistance.

In both cases, you are Working at Height and in both instances you need a safety back up in case you fall.