A few easy steps to ladder safety

By Jason Godfrey, General Manager Safesite Limited

Now that the summer’s approaching many people will be tempted to get their ladders out to unblock gutters, cut down unstable branches or fix loose roof tiles following this winter’s wet and windy weather – but before you do, please bear in mind that a third of all reported fall from height incidents involve ladders and step ladders.  It’s not a simple case of picking up a ladder and off you go, you need to think carefully about what the task is, what type of ladder you will need and whether you require any ancillary equipment.

So before you decide to rectify any weather damage, or simply need to do some general maintenance, here are a few things to consider before taking that first step up the ladder.

Is a ladder suitable?

As with all work at height you should carry out a risk assessment to decide whether a ladder really is the right equipment for the job.

For example, only use a ladder or stepladder:

  • in one position for a maximum of 30 minutes;
  • for ‘light work’ tasks.  If you need to carry anything greater than 10kg up a ladder, a manual handing risk assessment must be completed in order to justify the work;
  • where a handhold is available on a ladder or stepladder;
  • if you can maintain three points of contact (hands and feet).

Do not use a ladder or stepladder:

  • in wet, icy or windy conditions;
  • if you plus anything you are carrying exceed the load stated for the ladder;
  • there is the possibility that you may need to overreach.  Always keep inside the stiles with both feet on the rungs;
  • if the task could unbalance you, such as drilling through brick on concrete, when you’re using a stepladder.

What type of ladder?

Once you are sure that a ladder is the right equipment for the work you must make sure the one you are proposing to use is suitable.  Ladders have three classifications so which ladder you use will depend upon the task and load:

  • EN 131: for trade and light industrial use with a static load maximum of 150kg;
  • BS 2037/BS 1129 Class 1:  for heavy duty and industrial use with a maximum load of  175kg;
  • Class 3:  for domestic use with a maximum load of 125kg. These should  NEVER  be used in the workplace.

Securing a ladder

Always make sure the ladder is secured properly so there is no chance of it slipping away from the wall.  For example:

  • tie it to a suitable point making sure both stiles are tied at the top, part way down or bottom.  Never tie a ladder by its rungs;
  • when the ladder can’t be tied, use a ladder stability device such as a stand-off  or ladder spur which can provide increased stability and prevent the ladder from slipping sideways;
  • if the above two options aren’t possible, then you can securely wedge the ladder ;
  • the very last resort is to foot the ladder, but only if other options aren’t possible.

Safe to use?

Before using a ladder always carry out pre-use checks to see if there are any defects that may prevent safe use.  Things to look out for include:

  • bent, warped, rotten or cracked stiles;
  • missing, worn, loose or damaged rungs;
  • missing worn or damaged feet;
  • loose fixings;
  • split or buckled stepladder platform.

And finally, if you don’t follow best practice

The steps I’ve outlined here are merely a starting point when it comes to ladder safety,  you should never attempt to use a ladder without proper planning, instruction and training.  If you do, then the consequences could be serious, as the following case shows.

A company was recently fined £30k and over £5,800 costs  after a trainee suffered multiple fractures falling from a ladder while fitting a flue liner to a chimney.  The HSE investigation found that the trainee was trying to slide together an extendable roof ladder while balancing on top of an access ladder.  Unfortunately the access ladder wasn’t long enough to clear the guttering which meant it didn’t extend to a point where the trainee could step off safely.  When the roof ladder began to slip from his hands, it pulled him off the access ladder.  

After the hearing the HSE inspector commented  that the access ladder the trainee was working on had been used unsafely  and could not clear the guttering which lead to an totally preventable incident and that his company had failed to plan the work properly.    

In conclusion he added “There is no shortage of advice and information about safe use of ladders.  Where necessary, there is ancillary equipment available such as adjustable ladder stays, and straps for securing ladders to the building.”

So if you do need to carry out general  repair work,  make sure the ladder is the correct type for the work, safe to use and that you use it in accordance with training you‘ve been given – and remember if in doubt, ask the experts.

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