Ladders are Banned on Building Sites

By Jason Godfrey, General Manager, Safesite Limited

Many of us know that this isn’t the case, and ladders can still be used for access and light work for short durations.But someone who doesn’t regularly work off a ladder may believe this to be true.

Often when we talk about work at height we assume the person we’re talking to has a certain level of understanding of the topic, but what may seem obvious to us isn’t always so clear to those who aren’t involved with the work at height on a regular basis.

Over the coming weeks I’m going to look at general questions, and in some cases misconceptions, relating to work at height in general as well as to specific products such as guardrails and lifeline systems.

What is work at height?

As a general rule, if a person can be injured if they fall (even if they are at or below ground level) then they are working at height, so you need to properly plan the work, ensure they are protected as well as trained on how to carry out the task and use any equipment safely. 

Work at height could be working on a flat roof or off a ladder, working at ground level next to an open hole, fixing sports netting, maintaining internal air conditioning units or installing lights in an office.

Walking up and down a staircase in an office is NOT considered to be work at height.


What is a Risk Assessment?

“a systematic process of evaluating the potential risks that may be involved in a projected activity or undertaking”

If you are considering working at height, then you must carry out a risk assessment in order to identify any hazards and the risk they may present.

The risk assessment should look at hazards, who may be harmed by them and how and whether existing precautions are adequate. Other considerations should include what equipment to use, how long the work will take as well as the physical capabilities of the workers.  For example, it would be unwise to expect someone who suffers from vertigo to work off a ladder.


Can I avoid working at height?

When carrying out a risk assessment you should always look at whether the work at height could be avoided.  This may mean modifying a design such as placing plant and equipment at ground level rather than on a roof or changing the way your work, for example using a reach and wash system to clean windows so you don’t need to use a ladder.


What is the difference between collective and personal fall protection?

Collective fall protection generally involves equipment or systems which protect more than one person and require little or no user participation, for example, guardrails, scaffold, airbags and nets.  These should always take priority over personal fall protection as they don’t rely on correct usage, involve minimum training and little maintenance.

Personal fall protection generally comprises an anchorage point, lanyard and harness such as a lifeline system and should only be used as a last resort, if the work cannot be avoided or when collective measures are not suitable.  Anyone using a personal fall protection system must be fully trained on the correct use of the system as well as work at height and evacuation/rescue.


How high should a guardrail be?

Next time I’m going to be looking at some common questions and misconceptions when it comes to edge protection.  So if you’d like to know how far from the roof edge a guardrail should be placed, or have any other questions relating to edge protection, please feel to email us at [email protected]

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