Every day, around two million ladders are used around the UK – that’s an awful lot of climbing up and down ladders on all kinds of sites, both indoors and out.
Thankfully, there are only a handful of ladder deaths each year, but working from height remains a common cause of accidents and knowing how to use a ladder safely is a must for anyone planning to use one.
HSE has some useful things to say on the subject1, and we’ve drawn on their advice for this article, which looks at when a ladder is the best option, how to choose a ladder, how to check a ladder is safe to use and how to use a ladder or stepladder safely.
There are a number of options for working safely at height apart from ladders, including scaffolds, scissor lifts, cherry pickers and mobile elevated work platforms.
Ladders and stepladders are a good option when:
Even if the job is low risk, you may still need to assess and manage the risks. Common sense will tell you when you don’t need any particular precautions – using a stepladder to change a light bulb in a well-lit room on a flat surface with no clutter is one thing. Using a ladder outside, with changeable weather or ground conditions, will need more thought.
And do you even need to use a ladder? Could extendable tools do the job instead?
If you do, here’s the next big question:
HSE recommends using BS EN 131 ladders for use at work, as they meet stringent standards for safety.
Knowing which ladder is right for the job is crucial. Do you need the ladder to be made of fibreglass (to avoid electrical accidents), for example, or warehouse steps – often a safer bet than stepladders for warehouses and storerooms. Check out, too, the ladder for:
It’s good practice for the person who’s about to use the ladder to check it for defects before they start work:
For stepladders, there are two things to look out for: check that the platform isn’t split or buckled, and that the steps or treads on stepladders aren’t loose or slippery.
Let’s assume the ladder is sound, and you’re planning to use it on firm, level ground, on a clean and solid non-slip surface, and where you won’t be hit by vehicles. There are a few golden rules that will keep you safe:
And if you want to avoid a nasty accident:
And although it might seem daft to try it, don’t try to move or extend ladders when you’re standing on the rungs, and don’t stand the ladder on movable objects such as pallets or vans.
Using a stepladder safely follows similar principles. No overreaching or working on the top three steps; engage any locking devices; and only carry light materials and tools. Work that could cause the steps to tip over, such as side-on drilling through bricks or concrete, should be avoided. If it can’t be, see if you can tie the steps or find another way to work safely.
For more information, check out the HSE guidance Safe use of Ladders and Stepladders INDG455 [https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg455.pdf]. The Ladder Association [https://ladderassociation.org.uk/] is another great source of information and guidance.
The range of ladders offered by First Mats has been carefully put together to ensure the safest products are offered, which conform with the BS EN 131 standards. For more information on our ladder ranges, please see the links below;