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April 30, 2009

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Stile counsel

Ladder inspection will be one of the key themes at this year’s Working at Height Seminar Theatre, at Safety & Health Expo, as Don Aers explains.

When carrying out tasks involving the use of ladders and stepladders, it is important to make sure you have covered the following points:

  •  select the right equipment based on risk assessment;
  •  make sure the work is properly planned and organised;
  •  use the right type and classification of ladder;
  •  set up the ladder correctly and use it safely; and
  •  ensure it is properly maintained and in good condition.

This last point is a strong element of the Ladder Association’s recently-launched ladder inspection scheme. To ensure that ladders are kept in good working order, the following procedures should be implemented:

  •  pre-use checks by the user;
  •  detailed inspections;
  •  maintenance; and
  •  handling and storage.

Pre-use checks
The user must carry out a pre-use check prior to setting up the ladder (this may only need to be done once a day for frequently-used ladders). The aim of a pre-use check is to establish quickly whether a ladder is safe to use there and then, by enabling the user to identify obvious defects likely to prevent its safe and proper use. 

Possible defects might include, for example, stiles that are warped, cracked, bent, rotten, or of different lengths. Likewise, the check might identify rungs that are missing, worn, loose, or damaged.  
Other points to look for include paint or dirt on the ladder, which may hide defects, rivets or screws that are missing, and welds that are cracked, or corroded.

Detailed inspections        
Detailed inspections need to be carried out by competent persons. The aim is to establish whether the ladder is safe for continued use, or if maintenance and remedial work is necessary. In-depth visual and functional inspections need to be carried out at set intervals and formally recorded.

To be competent in undertaking an inspection, a person should know what types of defects or deterioration could be present; whether the defect or problem found is serious enough to prevent further use of the ladder (disposal or repair); or if increased, interim inspections are necessary.

Ladders must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines. The need to keep ladders’ anti-slip feet clean is of paramount importance, while the whole ladder also needs  to be kept clean so that defects are not hidden from view. Wooden ladders, in particular, should not be painted, as this can hide defects.

Where ladders are coated, the finish applied should be transparent — for example, varnish, shellac, or a clear preservative. Accessory items, such as ropes and pulleys, must also be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Handling and storage
Ladders should be stored and handled with care to avoid damage to both the equipment and the person handling the equipment.

When being transported, they need to be firmly secured and properly supported to prevent damage. These are the key points:

  • Ladders should be stored in covered, ventilated areas, protected from the weather, and away from too much dampness, heat, or cold;
  • Ladders can fall if stored vertically, so take particular care and, if possible, secure the top;
  • Never hang a ladder vertically from a rung;
  • Don’t store a ladder in any place where a child might be tempted to climb it;
  • Store ladders on one edge, in racks, or hung from a stile with enough supports to prevent sagging;
  • Wooden and steel ladders should be stored in the dry and off the ground, to prevent rot and corrosion;
  • For long-term storage, ladders should be protected from the elements.

Don Aers is chairman of the Ladder Association.

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