In this article we explain in 5 simple steps what action you should take before working at height using ladders and step ladders.
Working at height has always been a big issue in health and safety terms. In the year 2016/17 there were 25 people killed working at height and 37 the year before.
Many of these accidents occur because unsuitable or poorly maintained access systems are used or there is a lack of supervision and supervisory staff turn a blind eye to bad working practises. Often the situations could have been avoided if the work was properly planned and supervised.
The use of step ladders and ladders may seem like it is low risk, but as an average taken over 6 years, 14 of those annual fatalities are due to falling off some kind of ladder.
Consider whether the work can be carried out any other way, removing the need to work at height. For example, can windows turn in on themselves and be cleaned from the inside? If not, you must plan the work properly and carry out a risk assessment. The risk assessment will require you to look at the task, the access equipment, the employee carrying out the work and the environment.
Think about the task that is to be undertaken. You need to ensure that the ladder or step ladder is an appropriate height for the job. Never stand on the very top platform of step ladders or the top rung of ladders. In the case of ladders there should be at least 1 metre of ladder left from the rung that the worker is standing on. The equipment should also be of a suitable class for the job. Metal ladders should never be used in close proximity to electrical cables and for most work uses industrial grade equipment should be used.
Examine the ground conditions where the base of the ladder will be placed. If working outside then soft ground should be avoided as the feet or stiles can sink into the ground and each stile will not necessarily sink at the same rate, potentially leading to the ladder tipping over. If using a board to stand the ladder on to avoid this problem it must be non-slip. Checks must also be done for other traffic in the area. Ladders should be protected from vehicular traffic preferably through the use of physical barriers although in some cases a second person may be required to act as a look out. It is best is pedestrians can be excluded from the area too, this will avoid the ladder being knocked or falling objects from hitting pedestrians. Finally, in checking the area take into account if the ladder or step ladder will block any doors or windows. If an unsuspecting person decides to open a door or window that could mean your employee being knocked off the ladder!
The employee who you select to carry out the work must be competent in the use of ladders. It may be sufficient to give a task briefing or allow the worker to shadow someone else. They must not only understand how to use the equipment safely, but they should also be competent to carry out pre-use checks. These are visual checks to make sure the equipment is in good condition. Areas to examine are the rungs (or treads), the feet and stiles and on a step ladder the platform and locking mechanism. Defective equipment should be taken out of service and either repaired or replaced.
Once the pre-use checks are carried out the employee is ready to get on with the job. Once ladders have been positioned they need to be secured. Ladders can be tied at the bottom or top, but either way this must be round the stiles not the rungs and it must be tied to something that is well secured itself. A ladder can be footed, but this is a last resort as people can be easily distracted! The best angle to set a ladder at is 1 in 4 or 75⁰. Once on the ladder the user should make sure to stay within the stiles. Overreaching can make the ladder tip over and is a very dangerous practise, the ladder should be repositioned instead and this will require the employee to get down off the ladder before moving it. Three points of contact should be maintained at all times, but what many people do not realise is that one point can be the torso so this allows them to have two free hands to work, provided both feet are also on the ladder.
With regard to step ladders all four feet must remain in contact with the ground. If at all possible the stepladder should face the job rather than be set parallel to it. Side loading should be avoided, for example using a heavy duty drill in walls. If side loading cannot be avoided then the step ladder should be tied to avoid it tipping over. As with ladders the user should not over reach but move the step ladders instead. Finally a step ladder should never be used for access, for example into a loft hatch, as they are not designed for this purpose.
What the Law Says
The main piece of legislation governing working at height is the Working at Height Regulations 2005 which says that work at height should be avoided in the first instance if possible. If this is not possible then the work should be properly planned and risk assessment carried out.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (Regulation 3) says that employers must assess the significant risks in the workplace.
Envesca offer a number of different level health and safety courses, all of which include details on working at height. To find out more about these courses simply click on the links below: