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Nationwide Health & Safety Training and Assessments

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Don’t Fall Down On Safety

Written by:
Paula Coster

BA (Hons), MSc.
Associate Member CIEHF

Working at Height

Falling when working at height is one of the biggest causes of death and injury at work. In this article, learn how and why these accidents occur, and ways to minimise the risks including essential safety tips everyone must make before stepping on a ladder.

20%
of fatal accidents are caused by falling from height.

SOURCE: HSE

Working at height refers to any work above ground level
Most injuries are caused by falling less than 2 metres

 Many of these can be put down to the incorrect use of the equipment or using inappropriate equipment.

How do working at height injuries happen?

Common causes of injuries occurring when working at height include:

  • Falling from an unstable ladder.
  • A leaning ladder slipping or falling backwards.
  • Overstretching or leaning too far from the ladder.
  • Lack of a secure handhold when carrying tools.
  • Faulty equipment such as worn anti-slip feet.
  • Careless use – slipping or losing footing.

Should you do a risk assessment before climbing a ladder?

First of all, ask, do you really need to use a ladder?

If you can, avoid the need to work at a height where it is practical to do so. Eliminate the need to use a ladder where possible.

However, if it is essential to work at height, the law says that a ladder can be used to work at height if the risk assessment has shown the task to be short duration and in a low-risk situation.

In order to assess the risk, firstly ascertain how long you would need to stay up the ladder. The HSE recommend you consider using alternative equipment if the duration is estimated to be more than 30 minutes.

Secondly, assess the situation:  Will the ladder be placed on a stable, flat surface? If not, then an alternative should be used.
Are any loads being carried up the ladder heavier than 10KG? If so, an alternative should be used.

Minimise the risk of working at height

If using a ladder is essential and if the risks of using a ladder are assessed and it is considered safe to do so, then minimise the risk:

  • Ensure the person using the ladder is competent. Do they have the necessary knowledge and skills needed to use the ladder properly? Consider Working at
  • Working at Height training. Are they aware of the risks?
  • Make sure the correct type of ladder is being used. Ladders should be the property of the company and individually labelled.

Furthermore, every time a ladder is used, you should check it beforehand to make sure it is safe to use. Obviously, at this point, the ladder cannot be used if any defects are noted.

Essential safety checks that everyone should make BEFORE stepping on to a ladder:

Leaning Ladders

  • Firstly check the vertical rails known as stiles. If the stiles are bent or cracked, the ladder could collapse and must not be used if the stiles are bent or cracked.
  • Secondly, check the feet. Missing or damaged feet could make the ladder unstable. Worn feet could make slipping a risk. The feet should be clean and free from any material preventing contact with the ground (such as mud).
  • Check all welds, rivets and screws. Broken or missing ones can make a ladder dangerous to use.
  • Lastly, check the rungs are in good condition and securely in place. As soon as weight is put onto a broken rung, it could give way. Do not use a ladder with missing rungs.

Stepladders

  • Carry out the checks as with the leaning ladder.
  • In addition, pay close attention to the locking mechanism to ensure it engages firmly, and make sure there is no rust or eroding.
  • Check the stepladder platform. The ladder could collapse if the platform is damaged.

If the ladder is faulty in any way, do not use it. Remove it and report it.

So, hopefully, now you have now established your ladder is safe to use. Now use it safely:

Using a ladder safely

  • If it is possible to tie the ladder to something fixed and stable, this can lower the risk of it slipping.
  • Do not overreach.
  • Enlist another person to stand at the foot of the ladder offering additional support.
  • Never use ladder while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Never carry heavy loads – preferably under 10KG
  • Don’t carry awkwardly shaped loads
  • Both feet should be on the rungs. Never place one foot on another surface such as a shelf or window ledge
  • Use a ladder with a non-conductive material such as a wooden ladder if there is a risk of electric shock.
  • Never position a ladder near a window or door where there is a risk of opening, or within 6 metres of an overhead power line, or where passing traffic may drive too close.
  • Leaning ladders – do not work off top three rungs, these are a handhold
  • Use 1:4 rule. For every four units up, go one unit out. For instance, the bottom should be positioned 1 meter out if your ladder is to reach 4 metres in height.
  • Maintain three points of contact when climbing – one hand and two feet.

You can read more on the HSE site about using ladders safely.