Safe Working Practices For Ladders

Safe Working Practices For Ladders Ladder Safety

There is no question that ladders are incredibly useful tools. They can help you complete a wide variety of tasks, both indoors and outdoors. However, it is essential to remember that ladders can be dangerous if not used properly. This blog post will discuss some safe working practices for using ladders. We will also provide some tips for avoiding common accidents while using ladders. Follow these guidelines to stay safe while working with ladders!

Safe Working Practices For Ladders

The leading cause of accidents involving ladders is ladder movement while in use. This occurs when they have not been secured to a fixed point, particularly at the foot. Other causes include over-reaching by the worker, slipping on a rung, ladder defects, and contact with electricity in the case of metal ladders. The main types of accidents are falls from ladders.

Common Materials Used To Construct Ladders

Three common materials are used to construct ladders: aluminium, timber, and glass fibre. Aluminium ladders are light but should not be used in high winds or near-live electricity. Timber ladders need a regular inspection for damage and should not be painted, as this could hide cracks. Glass fibre ladders can be used near electrical equipment and food processing areas.

Every time a ladder is used, a pre-use check should be made. The user should undertake such a check to check the condition of the feet and rungs at the beginning of the working day or whenever the ladder is dropped or moved from a dirty area to a clean area.

Ladder showing correct 1 in 4 angle (means of securing omitted for clarity of illustration)
Ladder showing correct 1 in 4 angle (means of securing omitted for clarity of illustration)

Factors Should Be Considered When Using Ladders

The following factors should be considered when using ladders:

  • Undertake as much work as possible from the ground. 
  • Ensure the equipment is suitable, stable, and strong enough to be maintained and checked regularly.
  • Ensure that a ladder can be justified and is the safest means of access given the work and the height to be climbed. 
  • The location itself needs to be checked. The supporting wall and ground surface should be dry, firm, level, and slip-free. Extra care will be needed if the area is busy with pedestrians or vehicles or the ladder is rested against weak upper surfaces, such as glazing or plastic gutters. 
  • The ladder needs to be stable in use. This means that the inclination should be as near the optimum as possible (1:4 ratio of the distance from the wall to the distance up the wall).
  • Wherever possible, a ladder should be tied to prevent it from slipping. This can either be at the top, the bottom, or both, making sure both stiles are tied. Never tie a ladder by its rungs. 
  • If the ladder cannot be tied, use an ‘effective ladder,’ or one with an ‘effective ladder-stability device’ that the suppliers or manufacturers can confirm is stable enough to use unsecured in the worst-case scenario, e.g., a ladder stay with an anti-slip device. 
  • If the above three precautions are not possible, the ladder stiles can be wedged against a wall or other similar heavy object, or, as a last resort, have a second person ‘foot’ the ladder. 
  • Weather conditions must be suitable (no high winds or heavy rain). 
  • The proximity of live electricity should also be considered, mainly when ladders are carried near or under power lines. 
  • There should be at least 1 m of the ladder above the stepping-off point. 
  • The work activity must be considered in some detail. Over-reaching must be eliminated, and consideration is given to the storage of paints or tools from the ladder and any loads to be carried up the ladder. The ladder must be matched to the work required. 
  • Take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces. 
  • There should be protection provided from falling objects. 
  • Workers who use ladders must be trained in the correct method of use and selection. Such training should include using both hands during climbing, clean non-slippery footwear, clean rungs, and an undamaged ladder. 
  • Ladders should be inspected (particularly for damaged or missing rungs) and maintained regularly, and competent persons should only repair them. 
  • The transportation and storage of ladders are essential as much damage can occur at these times. They need to be handled carefully and stored in a dry place. 
  • When a ladder is left secured to a structure during non-working hours, a plank should be tied to the rungs to prevent unauthorized access. 
  • Emergency evacuation and rescue procedures should be considered.

More information on the safe use of ladders and stepladders is given in INDG455 Safe Use of Ladders and Stepladders – An Employers’ Guide, HSE Books. Specific work should not be attempted using ladders. This includes work where:

  • A secure handhold is not available; 
  • The work is at an excessive height or reach; 
  • The ladder cannot be secured or made stable; 
  • The work is of long duration or is strenuous; 
  • The work area is very large; 
  • The equipment or materials to be used are heavy or bulky;
  • The weather conditions are adverse; 
  • There is no protection from passing vehicles.

Several rumours have been that the Work at Height Regulations have banned ladders. This is not true. Ladders may be used for access, and it is legal to work from ladders. Ladders may be used when a risk assessment shows that the risk of injury is low, that the task is of short duration, or there are unalterable features of the work site, and that it is not reasonably practicable to use potentially safer alternative means of access, such as a MEWP or a mobile tower scaffold.

Maximum Height For Using A Ladder

There is no maximum height for using a ladder. However, where a ladder rises 9 m or more above its base, landing areas or rest platforms should be provided at suitable intervals. Ladder guidance from the HSE recommends that users maintain three points of contact when climbing a ladder and wherever possible at work. The three points of contact are a hand and two feet. 

The British Ladder Manufacturers ‘ Association provides more information on ladders and their use within the Work at Height Regulations requirements. Ladders for industrial work in the UK should be marked to:

  • Timber BS1129: Kitemarked Class 1 Industrial 
  • Aluminium BS2037: 1994 Kite Marked Class 1 
  • Industrial Glass fiber BSEN131: 1993 Kitemarked 
  • Industrial Step stools BS7377: 1994.

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