Last month a county council ruled that workers could no longer use ladders to place advertising banners on lamppost mounts because it “is not a safe system of work and therefore breaches health-and-safety legislation.” Over the years there have been several misinterpretations about safely using ladders and stepladders, both inside and outside.
Common Work At Height Myths
The HSE have listed some of the more common myths related to working at height. These include the incorrect beliefs that the HSE has banned the use of ladders on building sites and for accessing scaffolds, and that any person using a ladder has to be ‘qualified’ (not correct – but they do have to be competent!)
Ladders And The Law
According to law, ladders can be used for work at height when a risk assessment has shown that using equipment that offers a higher level of fall protection is not justified. Using a ladder may be better because of the low risk and short duration of use, or because you are unable to alter existing workplace features.
It also says that risk not the duration of the work is the deciding factor in establishing whether an activity is acceptable or not. As a guide, if a task would require staying up a leaning ladder or stepladder for more than 30 minutes at a time, you should consider using alternative equipment. Ladders should only be used in situations where they can be safe, e.g. where the ladder will remain level and stable, and where it is reasonably practicable to do so, the ladder can be secured.
Correct Use Of A Ladder
Unsurprisingly the first thing to consider when using a ladder is the height at which the work will have to take place. Choose the ladder appropriate for the elevation needed. At no point during any task should the user of the ladder have to stretch to reach something. Do not use a metal ladder if the work will involve the use of electrical equipment. Anyone working on a ladder should ideally be wearing slip-resistant footwear.
Having selected a ladder, inspect it for damage and corrosion. The feet should be in good condition, and the rungs should be present and without cracks. Also check no oil, grease or dirt is present to make surfaces slippery. There should be procedures to ensure a ladder is repaired if it is unfit for use.
Having found a ladder that is safe to use the next decision is whether the working conditions are safe. Before setting up the ladder, there needs to be an assessment of the weather conditions and any potential hazards nearby. Windy or wet conditions increase the chance of a ladder moving during use or workers slipping. Potential hazards include overhead power cables and any uneven ground where the ladder is to stand. Workers should know the procedures in place should something go wrong when using the ladder. If it is not safe to set up the ladder for use, then either take remedial action or postpone the work and wait until conditions are safe.
A ladder is a fundamental piece of equipment that seems easy to use. Unfortunately, this is one of those instances when familiarity can breed inattentiveness. When using a ladder, it is vital to remain focused and not allow yourself to become distracted. When climbing a ladder, always stay centred and have three points of contact. The worker should have two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand in contact with the ladder’s steps, rungs or side rails at all times. While on the ladder you must not hold or carry loads or objects that can interfere with a firm grip on the ladder, and you should avoid overreaching, pushing, pulling, or making any movements that could unbalance the worker or the ladder. There should also be only one person on the ladder at a time, no matter what the circumstances.
Using A Stepladder
The procedures for stepladders are very similar.
- When selecting a stepladder, check the load rating to ensure it can support your weight and anything you may be using while on it.
- Inspect the ladder for cracks, corrosion, loose rivets and defective parts. Also, check there are no slippery substances like oil or grease left from previous use.
- Open the step ladder fully, ensuring the shelf is resting in place correctly, and the braces are locked in position.
- Position the stepladder close to the task at hand to avoid overreaching.
- Before climbing the stepladder ensure it is stable and the feet are on a firm, dry, even surface. If you need to reposition the stepladder during use, do not ‘walk’ it while standing on it. Dismount and then move the ladder.
- Always use the right side of the stepladder. One side is usually labelled as unsafe for climbing, though the absence of steps should be a clue.
- Maintain three points of contact with the stepladder even when you need both hands free to do a job. These points do not have to be just two feet and one hand, it can be two feet and your body (for example, using your knees or chest to help maintain a stable position).
- While you are up the ladder, your knees should not rise above the top of the stepladder. If you move higher than this position, your centre of gravity will be high enough to risk making the stepladder unstable enough to risk toppling the ladder.
- Do not have more than one person on a stepladder at a time.
Just because ladders are simple and easy to use it does not mean using them is without risk. Incorrect use of a ladder or a slight distraction when using one can result in a fall, serious injury or even death. The rules to ensure safety when using ladders are straightforward and are summarised by the HSE in a brief pdf guide to the safe use of ladders and stepladders (PDF).
New Broom Training offer consultancy services and can advise on H&S risk assessments.