Ladders are everyday pieces of access equipment. Nearly everyone owns a ladder, they are used in homes and workplaces. For such a common piece of equipment, they must be safe. So what’s the risk?
Each year, around 1200 people suffer major injuries and 12 people die after falls from ladders. The injuries can be serious too. Life changing in fact. Some people never walk again after a fall from a ladder.
You might not think you are that high up when using a ladder, especially stepladders. But it's not always the distance you fall, but also, how you fall. Any work above ground level, no matter the height, is work at height.
Work at height means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. You are working at height if you:
- -work above ground/floor level
The Work at Height Regulations covers work from height and access equipment including ladders. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) also apply to ladders. Some of these 10 rules come straight out the regulations. Some are best practice or common sense guidance.
Used right, ladders are not particularly dangerous. But, with ladders accounting for over a quarter of falls from height and each year, it is important to use ladders carefully. Our 10 ‘rungs’ (rules) of ladder safety will help you use ladders correctly.
The first rule of ladder safety is, don't use ladders. Of course, there are times when you will have to use ladders, and that's fine. When it is the right equipment for the job. But don't use ladders for everything, regardless of the consequences.
If you need a safe working platform at height for long durations, ladders are probably not the right choice. You are better off looking at scaffolding, or mobile elevated working platforms (MEWPs).
Ladders are access equipment, not working platforms. There's no fall protection, prevention, or edge protection. If you need access or are carrying out short term work at height (under 30 minutes), you might consider a ladder.
Only use ladders for work of short duration and which you can do safely from a ladder. For example, work requiring only one hand and within easy reaching distance.
The stability of your ladder relies on the stability of the surfaces it rests on. Surfaces need to be level, and strong enough to hold the ladder securely during use.
For stepladders, this is the ground or platform underneath the feet of the ladder. For leaning ladders, you need to consider both the ground stability and whatever it is resting on at or near the top. Gutters, branches, glass and other fragile surfaces, might hold the ladder initially. What about with the weight of a person climbing the ladder? Will those surfaces be strong and secure enough?
2. Any surface upon which a ladder rests shall be stable, firm, of sufficient strength and of suitable composition safely to support the ladder so that its rungs or steps remain horizontal, and any loading intended to be placed on it.
Ladders are usually temporary. For short access work like maintenance. When you pop one up, other people might not be expecting you to be there! Do not use a ladder in a driveway or passageway unless you can protect yourself. Use barriers and signage, or have an assistant constantly in attendance.
Think about your surroundings, is the type of ladder you are using safe for the conditions? Do not use metal ladders near electrical equipment.
How you position your ladder can have a big impact on safety. For stepladders, you should make sure they are fully extended before use.
For leaning ladders, you should remember the 4 to 1 rule. Ladders must be placed at a safe angle of approx. 75 degrees. This means the distance from the base of your ladder to the wall should be ¼ height reached by the ladder.
Ladders can slip both outwards and side to side. Sideways movement usually happens near the top of the ladder. They are best secured by tying or fixing the ladder near the top. This prevents it from slipping either outwards or sideways. Where securing at the upper end of the ladder towards the top is not possible, securing at the middle or near the base is necessary.
5. A portable ladder shall be prevented from slipping during use by—
- securing the stiles at or near their upper or lower ends;
- an effective anti-slip or other effective stability device; or
- any other arrangement of equivalent effectiveness.
Where securing at neither the top, middle or bottom is possible, the ladder should be secured by other measures. For example through the use of a stability device or wedging the ladder. Footing the ladder is the last resort and only where other methods are not practical.
If your ladder is interlocking or extendible, the sections should be locked in place to prevent them from moving. Make sure it is secure and stable before use.
Once you have checked that a ladder is the right equipment for the job, you need to check that your ladder is in good enough condition for use. Ladders are well-used pieces of equipment, so they can take a battering during use, in storage and in transport.
(2) Every employer shall ensure that work equipment exposed to conditions causing deterioration which is liable to result in dangerous situations is inspected—
- at suitable intervals
You should also regularly inspect ladders for signs of deterioration. Check for splits, warping, decay, damage, etc. It is easy to see how a missing or defective rung could cause a user to lose their footing and fall.
Check that wooden ladders have not been painted, as flaking paint can also cause slips or disguise damage.
Wherever you use a ladder, it needs to be inspected in position, before use. Both the Work at Height Regulations, and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) require this.
(2) Every employer shall ensure that, where the safety of work equipment depends on how it is installed or assembled, it is not used after installation or assembly in any position unless it has been inspected in that position.
This is a final inspection, to double check the ladder condition, position, angle, and stability.
When climbing or descending ladders, both hands are needed. You should always have a secure handhold available when using a ladder. This means, when ladders are used for access, they protrude above the access point. This is so you can maintain a handhold while dismounting (unless another secure handhold has been provided).
You should also think about how you will move tools and materials up the working height if needed. Think about using a toolbelt, a shoulder bag or similar (or hoist them up afterwards).
When you need to reach great heights, you should consider whether a ladder is the best equipment for the job. Anything above 9m, and you need to think about resting places.
9. Where a ladder or run of ladders rises a vertical distance of 9 metres or more above its base, there shall, where reasonably practicable, be provided at suitable intervals sufficient safe landing areas or rest platforms.