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 is 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 Ladder Association, 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 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 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:

  1. 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;
  2. Always read the manufacturer’s instruction manual;
  3. Position the leaning ladder at a 75-degree angle;
  4. 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;
  5. Make sure the ladder is long enough for the task;
  6. Do not overload. Think about the worker’s weight as well as the equipment or materials being carried;
  7. Consider overhead power lines when working. Consult HSE guidance for more information on minimum safe distances;
  8. 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.

Man killed by falling window pane from Residential apartment building in London

Police are investigating the death of a man believed to have been killed by a window pane that fell from the Corniche building, a new apartment block on the Albert Embankment at 10.42am, Tuesday 2nd October.

The man, believed to be in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Metropolitan police said

“At this early stage in the investigation, it is believed he was hit by something falling from a building. Officers remain at the scene.”

Early on Tuesday evening, a team of forensic investigators was seen at the empty window frame the pane of glass is believed to have fallen from.

A London ambulance service spokesman said:

“We sent an incident response officer, two motorcycle responders, a single responder in a car and an ambulance crew. Sadly, a person was dead at the scene.”

The Heath and Safety Executive, which investigates all work-related deaths, has started making inquiries. The police have a duty to inform the HSE if they believe work-related activity has some bearing on any fatality.

The Corniche building, designed by the celebrated architecture firm Foster and Partners, was completed last year. The last remaining apartments on the development range in price from £2.7m to £6.25m. It also includes £22m penthouses on the upper floors.

St James, the building’s developers, said it was working with the police on the investigation. A spokesman said:

“It is with great sadness that we learned of an incident at our Corniche development on Albert Embankment this morning, in which a man suffered fatal injuries.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to his family at this incredibly difficult time. We are investigating this incident as a matter of urgency and working with the emergency services to establish what happened.”