Ladder safety: How to work safely with ladders and stepladders
With falls from height still the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of major injuries, it’s essential that anyone who undertakes work at height is both trained and competent.
That is the principal theme of a new campaign from the Ladder Association – ‘Get a grip on ladder safety’ – which promotes the message that if it’s right to use a ladder, use the right ladder and get trained to use it safely.
The risks posed by work at height are commonly associated with construction and maintenance activities. However, employees in all types of workplace can be at risk. For example, office maintenance staff, shop workers and even teachers using inappropriate equipment – such as a desk or chair – to access something at height.
Using the right ladder is crucial says the not-for-profit organisation, especially now when ladder standards are changing. BS EN 131, the single British and European product standard covering all types of portable ladders – step, extending and combination – has been substantially revised, and manufacturers are in the process of changing over to the new designs.
The changes will help to improve the safety of ladders and make buying the right ladder much simpler. They include dimensional changes to improve stability, increased strength test requirements and new provisions for ladder durability.
As part of the campaign the Ladder Association has produced a free guide which highlights the key changes for specifiers, users and health and safety professionals, and for managers and supervisors responsible for the safety of employees using ladders in the workplace.
The guide makes it clear that standards do not apply retrospectively and gives practical, sensible advice to businesses in adjusting their purchasing policies to take account of the new standard.
The Work at Height Regulations require employers to do everything reasonably practicable to prevent people at work falling a distance liable to cause them injury. This means –
amongst other things – ensuring the risks from height are adequately assessed, providing suitable work equipment and ensuring that, crucially, anyone involved in work at height receives appropriate training.
More often than not, falls are caused by inappropriate or incorrect use which is why the Ladder Association strongly advocates the need for users, supervisors and managers to undertake professional training to equip themselves with the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to use ladders safely and productively.
Everyone thinks they can use a ladder or stepladder claims the Association, but the reality is often quite different. It’s an attitude that encourages a complacent, over-confident and potentially dangerous mentality.
Ladder safety checklist
The Get a grip campaign aims to provide practical help and advice on all aspects of safe ladder use. The free guide includes information on using a leaning ladder correctly:
- Assess if it’s right to use a ladder. Ladders can be appropriate for low risk and short duration tasks that take no longer than 30 minutes;
- Always read the manufacturer’s instruction manual;
- Position the leaning ladder at a 75-degree angle;
- Maintain a firm handhold on the ladder. Only let go of a handhold briefly when it’s not possible to maintain it for the task in hand. For example, starting to knock in a nail;
- Make sure the ladder is long enough for the task;
- Do not overload. Think about the worker’s weight as well as the equipment or materials being carried;
- Consider overhead power lines when working. Consult HSE guidance for more information on minimum safe distances;
- Secure a leaning ladder wherever possible at both top and bottom. If that’s not possible, seek advice from the manufacturer on stabilisation. As a last resort, ask someone to foot the ladder. Use a strong upper resting point rather than, for example, plastic gutters.
Inspection is also an important part of ladder safety. Maintaining ladders and stepladders in good working order requires pre-use checks by the user, detailed inspections and routine maintenance.
Ladder safety training
In summary, the Ladder Association recommends the use of the STEP methodology to foster safe ladder use:
Site: When positioning a ladder, is the ground/resting surface suitably dry, flat, firm, strong and secure? If not, you must adapt the surface or take measures to prevent the ladder becoming unstable. In other words, make sure the work is risk assessed, correctly organised and planned;
Task: You should not undertake a task using a ladder or stepladder which will require you to work continuously for more than 30 minutes at a time;
Equipment: If, following a risk assessment, it’s right to use a ladder, use the right ladder to the correct classification, position it properly and inspect and maintain it in good working order;
People: Make sure the person using the ladder is competent to do so through a combination of practical and theoretical knowledge, training and experience.
For more details about the Get a grip on ladder safety campaign and to download the Ladder Safety Pack, click here.
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