Ladder safety is something that anyone working at height should have a basic knowledge of. One of the most common causes for injury is through falling from ladders and injury can occur from surprisingly small heights. Here we take a look at who uses ladders, the common risks and how to use ladders in a safer way.
In many lines of work people use ladders and stepladders, these include –
- Construction– Depending on the work at height tasks, construction workers will often use ladders/stepladders in the course of their work. They can use a range of ladders/stepladders at different heights.
- Agricultural and horticultural – Agricultural and horticultural workers use ladders and stepladders, e.g. Orchard workers use ladders to pick fruit and gardeners use ladders to cut hedges.
- Roofers – Particularly self-employed roofers, will use ladders for accessing the roof. There are specific ladders that can be used for roofing works.
- Maintenance – Maintenance workers will often use ladders to access short duration maintenance jobs.
- Self-employed – Self-employed workers such as landscapers, gardeners, builders, window cleaners, electricians, decorators and plasterers will often use ladders and stepladders for work at height, e.g. To decorate a ceiling.
What are the main hazards and causes?
- Overreaching – Overreaching on a ladder can cause it to move to the side suddenly and can affect a person’s balance.
- Overloading – Overloading the ladder can cause it to tip or to buckle. The equipment must be suitable for the weight of the person and any tools/materials.
- Not maintaining 3 points of contact – This can make the ladder unstable and affect a worker’s balance. This is usually an issue when carrying items whilst ascending/descending the ladder.
- Incorrect ladder setup – Not fully extending stepladders, not securing extension ladders or not having a leaning ladder at the correct 1:4 ratio.
- Unsuitable work equipment – This can cause the ladder/stepladder to topple. This is usually as a result of the ladder/stepladder not being long enough and workers standing on the top 3 steps/rungs.
- Defective or damaged equipment – Ladders or stepladders that are damaged or are defective can break during use.
- Ground conditions – Uneven ground can make the ladder/stepladder unstable. Ladders/stepladders can also slip on certain materials such as metal drain covers.
- Weather conditions – Weather conditions, such as rain, ice, snow and high winds, can make a ladder/stepladder slippery and high winds can make the equipment unstable.
- Unsuitable footwear – Wearing unsuitable footwear can cause someone to slip off the ladder.
- Leaning ladder not secured – If leaning ladders are not secured, then they can move suddenly to the side or outwards.
- Lack of training and competency – If a worker does not know how to check ladders for damage/defects, or does not know how to safely use and work on ladders, then there is a higher risk of falls.
There are also other hazards in addition to fall hazards, these are:
- Falling objects – Objects can be accidentally or deliberately dropped, whilst working at height on a ladder or stepladder. Falling objects can hit people below. Falling objects can also fall from overhead, when someone is working on a ladder/stepladder, which could hit them/or the ladder.
- Electricity – Some ladders, particularly leaning/extendable ladders, can be quite long and could come into contact with electrical overhead lines. Aluminium ladders are good conductors and so workers holding on to the ladder could be electrocuted. If someone has an electric shock, whilst working on a ladder, this could result in them falling.
- Traffic movement – Vehicle and pedestrian movement can be a hazard when someone is working on a ladder or stepladder. If a vehicle or person collides with the ladder/stepladder, whilst someone is working at height, they could lose their balance and fall.
Injuries associated with ladder/stepladder hazards
Accidents involving ladders and stepladders can have severe consequences and can result in –
- Fatalities – Falling from height and hitting the ground or objects below, electrocution and objects falling and hitting someone below can kill.
- Disability – Organ damage and spine/neck injuries from falls. Falling objects can also result in serious head injuries, which could cause brain damage.
- Serious injuries – Falls can result in bone fractures, which can be multiple, and cause ligament/tendon damage. Skull fractures could result from falling objects.
- Minor injuries – Bruises, cuts, grazes, sprains and strains from falls.
- Psychological injuries – After an accident, particularly if it results in serious injury and/or disability, a person can suffer from mental health illnesses.
The severity of the injury, from falls from ladders/stepladders, will more than likely be influenced by the height someone falls from and what they fall onto below. Bear in mind that people have been seriously injured from falls from heights, which have been less than 1 metre. However, generally – the higher the ladder, the higher the risk.
The dos and don’ts of ladder safety
- Make sure that ladders are the most suitable equipment for the task
- Carry out a risk assessment
- Ensure the ladder has been inspected
- Complete a pre-use check
- Make sure that the ladder is secure before use and all locking devices are used
- Use ladders for light work only
- Prevent objects from falling from ladders
- Use ladders for short duration work only
- Use ladders for what they have been designed for
- Make sure you are fit enough to use a ladder
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
- Wear the correct PPE
- Overreach on a ladder
- Slide down the stiles
- Use a ladder for a long period of time
- Stand on the top 3 rungs/steps of a ladder
- Move, or extend, leaning ladders whilst standing on the rungs
- Put ladders on unstable surfaces
- Throw objects from ladders
- Work close to electrical conductors
- Use a damaged or defective ladder
- Use a stepladder as a single ladder
- Use ladders in adverse weather conditions
- Stand ladders on objects that move, e.g. Vehicles
- Overload the ladder with tools and materials.
Risk assessments are a legal requirement under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) (regulation 3). The Work at Height Regulations (2005) make reference to the MHSWR in section 6 of the regulations – avoidance of risks from work at height. It places a duty on employers to take account of the legal requirement for risk assessment in the MHSWR. In other words, when doing a risk assessment for work at height, on ladders and stepladders, employers must refer to the requirements in the MHSWR. They must also justify the use of ladders/stepladders in the risk assessment, as they should only be used for low risk work that is of a short duration.
What are the steps to a risk assessment
A risk assessment should be carried out before a work at height activity starts or before starting in a new work location. For ladder safety, a risk assessment should be completed in five steps (although you may come across other methods). The five steps are:
- Identification of hazards
- Deciding who could be harmed by the hazard and how
- Evaluating the risks identified and decide what precautions are necessary
- Recording the findings of the risk assessment
- Reviewing and update the risk assessment where necessary.
Why are risk assessments important?
When it comes to ladder safety, you can never be too careful. As we have explored, a fall from as little as 1 meter can cause serious damage. Carrying our thorough risk assessments when using everyday tools such as ladders is essential to staying safe and avoiding serious injury.
Despite ladders being a daily tool for many jobs, you should never become blind to the dangers they pose. Always consider the risk involves and the possible impact falls could have on yourself and loved ones.
Read some more of our Health and Safety articles to get useful hints and tips on safety at work.