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Ladders and step ladders are essential tools for many businesses and employers in the UK. When used correctly, ladders can provide a practical and low-risk option for both employers and individuals. However, one of the most common injuries experienced in the workplace is falls from a height, particularly falls from ladders.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that:
- A third of all workplace injuries are caused by falls from ladders.
- 20% of fatal accidents in the food and drink industry are caused by falling from a height.
- The cost to the UK economy is more than £60 million every year.
Today, we will take a more in-depth look at ladder safety in the UK and how to conduct an effective ladder safety risk assessment.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment is a tool to help ensure the health and safety of individuals in a particular environment. It allows you to examine situations, processes, activities and objects to ensure that the risk level is low. A risk assessment allows you to implement any measures that will remove or reduce the risk of harm.
Risk assessments are a legal requirement for employers and self-employed individuals in the UK.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) states that every employer should make suitable and sufficient assessments of:
- Any risks to the health and safety of employees.
- Any risks to those not employmed by the company that arise out of a connection with the company.
If a company has more than five employees, the information and results of the risk assessment should be recorded. Employers should pay special attention to recording any potential risks to those individuals who may be more vulnerable, including those who are pregnant, those with a disability and older or younger individuals.
A risk assessment should look at the following:
- Hazard Identification – This involves identifying hazards and any risk factors that may have the potential to cause harm.
- Risk Analysis and Risk Evaluation – This involves analysing and evaluating any risks associated with the hazard.
- Risk Control – This involves determining appropriate and effective ways to eliminate, reduce or control the risk.
Risk assessments are essential in all workplaces in the UK. Not only are they required by law, but they also help employers to:
- Create awareness and understanding of any potential hazards and risks.
- Identify who may be at risk or identify if any individuals or groups of individuals are at a higher risk.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of existing control measures related to the hazard or risk.
- Ensure any additional control measures are implemented.
- Prioritise any hazards or specific control measures.
- Ensure all legal requirements and responsibilities are fulfilled.
- Ensure the health and safety of employees, volunteers and the public.
Ladder safety risk assessment
When using a ladder, a risk assessment must show that the situation will be both low-risk and of a short duration of fewer than 30 minutes. Before conducting a ladder safety risk assessment, ensure you first consult the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) guidelines regarding risk assessments.
When conducting a ladder risk assessment, there are certain steps you should follow:
- Identify any potential hazards – This could include hazards such as incorrect set-up, electric shocks, falling and incorrect use.
- Identify any risks related to the potential hazard – For example, a risk associated with incorrect set-up could be the ladder folding or falling.
- Determine the likelihood of harm and the severity of the potential harm.
- Determine who is likely to be harmed and if any individuals are more at risk than others.
- Evaluate the risk and decide what control measures are necessary. The control measures should be recorded in detail.
- Record all details of the risk assessment and update it when necessary.
- Ensure every person who uses a ladder reads and signs the risk assessment.
A ladder safety risk assessment should be carried out before the ladder is used for the first time. If a workplace uses different ladders for different tasks, each ladder may require its own risk assessment. This is especially true for different types of ladders, for example step ladders and leaning ladders.
The risk assessment should be carried out or updated, at a minimum, every 12 months. However, it may need to be conducted more frequently depending on the frequency in which the ladder is used, the age of the ladder and the environment in which the ladder is used.
It is the responsibility of the employer to carry out ladder safety risk assessments. The employer may designate a specific person who has the correct training to carry out all risk assessments. The information of this person should be recorded, and all employees should be aware of who this person is. For more information about risk assessments, consult our knowledge base.
There are several things you can do to ensure you are using a ladder safely.
- Ensure a ladder is the safest and most suitable way to complete the task.
- Complete a risk assessment or if a risk assessment has previously been conducted, ensure it is up to date and that you follow it carefully.
- Ensure the ladder is safe to use and has been inspected according to any guidelines. Perform a visual inspection before using.
- Make sure the ladder is erected properly. If possible, attach the ladder to something fixed and stable to keep it steady and reduce the risk of it slipping. This may not be possible with a step ladder.
- Ask another person to stand at the foot of the ladder.
- Never overreach when using the ladder.
- Do not carry heavy loads on the ladder. The recommendation is less than 10kg, but this weight could be less based on several factors including your strength, the height of the ladder and the size and shape of the objects you are carrying.
- Be careful where you position the ladder. Some things to be aware of include cables and power lines, windows, doors and other unstable objects.
- Only use the ladder for a short duration.
- Do not stand or lean on the top three rungs of a ladder.
- Ensure both feet are on the rungs, not balancing on another surface.
- Never use a ladder when under the influence of drink or drugs.
- Never use a ladder when suffering from certain medical conditions, such as vertigo, or if a side-effect of any medication you are taking includes dizziness.
- Ensure you are physically fit enough to use the ladder and have the strength to carry any objects up or down the ladder.
- Maintain three points of contact when climbing the ladder.
- Make sure the ladder is on a stable surface.
- Ensure you are not using a ladder made of a conductive material (such as metal) if there is any risk of electric shock.
What are the hazards?
There are multiple hazards associated with using ladders. Being aware of the hazards and potential risks can help reduce the likelihood of harm to you or another individual.
Some of the potential hazards to be aware of when using a ladder include:
- Using the ladder on an uneven floor – Ensure all the ladder’s feet are securely on the floor with no risk of them moving or lifting. You should also ensure the ground is not slippery.
- Undertaking complex tasks – It is not recommended to be on a ladder for more than 30 minutes.
- Overreaching – Ensure you can reach without leaning to the side or standing on the top rungs of the ladder. Overreaching can cause the ladder to move or tip.
- Overloading – Heavy tools and equipment being carried up and down the ladder or leant on the rung of a ladder can cause the ladder to tip or fall. Ensure the weight of the person and equipment does not exceed the weight recommended by the manufacturer.
- Unsuitable footwear – Footwear with little grip or with heels can make it easier to slip and fall off a ladder.
- Poor maintenance – It is essential to properly maintain ladders. They should be checked for damage and lost or missing pieces regularly. A poorly maintained ladder may break or cause a serious injury.
- Incorrect ladder – There are many types and sizes of ladders, and it is imperative that the correct one is used for the task. Incorrect ladder hazards may include incorrect height, incorrect weight limit and incorrect feet for the surface.
- Not maintaining three points of contact – When climbing up and down the ladder, you should always maintain three points of contact – for example, two feet and one hand. Failure to do this can result in a lack of balance and the individual falling from the ladder.
- Incorrect set-up – Ensure ladders are fully extended, safety clips are engaged and extensions are secured. Leaning ladders should be safely secured. Always follow the 1:4 ratio – set the base 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet of height.
- Manual handling – Injuries can occur when lifting, carrying, moving and positioning a ladder.
- Electric shock – Using a metal ladder near electricity, such as live cables, can result in electric shock or electrocution.
- Falling objects – In this instance the risk is posed to both you and others. If an object is dropped from a ladder, it could injure you or another person.
What factors to consider when conducting a ladder safety risk assessment
When conducting a ladder safety risk assessment, there are several factors that should be considered.
- What the ladder is likely to be used for – This could include the types of tasks that necessitate a ladder and the most common reasons a ladder will be used in your workplace.
- Where the ladder is likely to be used – Different risks are associated with different environments. Things to consider include whether the ladder will be used inside or outside, the ground surface and the ceiling height.
- How the ladder can be secured – For a leaning ladder, you will need to consider how to secure it at the top. Both leaning and step ladders may also need to be secured at the base.
- Manufacturer recommendations – This information should be considered and included in the risk assessment. The manufacturer is likely to state a weight limit, recommend which rungs should not be stood on and may also provide a time frame for maintenance checks.
- The age of the ladder – Older ladders will need more maintenance checks and may have additional risks associated with them.
- Is there a safer way of completing the task without using a ladder? A ladder should only be used when there is no other alternative and should be used for no more than 30 minutes.
- How often should inspections take place? This information should also include who is to carry out the inspections and how inspections are recorded.
- Are there any individuals or groups of individuals who should not be using a ladder? Certain individuals may have a higher risk of harm when using a ladder. For example, an individual who is pregnant or suffers from certain health conditions.
- Are the control measures feasible and effective? If a control measure is unfeasible or very difficult to complete, it is less likely to be implemented. Make sure the control measures make sense, can be reasonably completed, and are cost- and time-effective.
- Do you need a separate risk assessment for different ladders? Some employers will have different ladders for different tasks and there are likely to be different risks associated with them. A small step ladder designed to be used indoors will have different risks compared to a 20-metre ladder designed to be used with rooftops.
- Do the individuals using the ladders require any additional training? Training can be provided on using ladders safely or working from heights. Consider how frequently employees will be using ladders and whether training is likely to benefit them.
What happens after a ladder safety risk assessment?
Once a ladder safety risk assessment has been completed, the assessment will need to be recorded. Although current legislation stipulates that a risk assessment record must only be created if there are more than five employees, it is recommended that a record is always kept.
This helps to ensure the risk assessment is understood and adhered to by all individuals. It also helps to protect the employer in the event of a ladder-related accident.
The risk assessment record should demonstrate that:
- All potential hazards and risks have been identified.
- The employer is aware of who is at risk and understands the likelihood and potential severity of harm.
- All potential hazards have effective control measures and that these have been adhered to.
- That all employees understand and adhere to the risk assessment.
Following the risk assessment, it is important to ensure that the control measures are implemented. Some of the control measures will need to be implemented every time a ladder is used. For example, to reduce the risk of electric shock, individuals will always need to ensure they are using a ladder that is not made from a conductive material and ensure the ladder is not within reach of electricity cables or a power supply.
Other control measures may not need to be implemented every time the ladder is used. For example, hazards associated with the weather will only be applicable in certain weather conditions or if the ladder is being used outside.
Ladders are a much-used tool in many lines of work in the UK including construction, hospitality, maintenance, agriculture and horticulture and even retail. Ensuring the safety of employees and the public is of paramount importance.
Risk assessments are not only required by law, but they also help to ensure the health and safety of everyone associated with a workplace. Conducting a ladder safety risk assessment involves ensuring that all potential hazards and risks have been identified and control measures have been implemented.
It is important to ensure that all employees using a ladder have read and understood the risk assessment. It is also recommended that they sign and date the risk assessment.
Falls from height, and incidents related to ladders specifically, cause many minor and major injuries every year in the UK. They are also a leading cause of work-based fatalities. Ensuring ladders in your workplace are properly maintained and are used with minimal or no risk can help protect employees and reduce the likelihood of an accident occurring.