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Safety Management

Consultant / trainer

Produced by Alan Bunting © Training and Safety Services


Alan Bunting MIIRSM. Dip NEBOSH. Grad IOSH.

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Ladder Safety – Simple Precautions You Must Take

A recent court case involving a Coventry Housing Association has highlighted the need for employers to take simple precautions when using a leaning ladder.

Whitefriars Housing Group was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a 52-year-old employee fell from a ladder as he inspected the gutter of a property. His injuries, which included a broken pelvis, saw him hospitalised for four months and unable to return to work for several months after that.


An Investigation by the HSE found that the ladder had not been properly stabilised. The company had adopted the use of ladder standoff equipment and the base of the ladder had not been properly secured. The company had failed to provide equipment and instruction to ensure ladders were secured safely.

Whitefriars Housing Group Ltd were fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £5,980 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This section of the 1974 Act incorporates the general duties of the employer to ensure a safe system of work including the provision of safe access to a place of work, provision of the necessary equipment, provision of information, instruction, training. provision of supervision.


The measures you must take are proportional to the risks that your organisation faces and the duty to manage those risks is qualified by the term ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. It is clear that exposure to the risk has a significant influence and, as exposure increases, the level of precaution you must adopt also increases. In this case, the employees would be expected to make frequent use of leaning ladders and a reasonable employer would have done more to ensure the stability of the ladder and protect staff from fall risks.


What Should be Done?

In the first instance, you should look at alternative means of access to prevent fall risks. However, practicality has a part to play and the use of equipment such as mobile elevated working platforms or access scaffolds are not always a viable proposition. At some point in your risk assessment, you may decide that a ladder is the appropriate equipment for the job. However, more can be done to make the task safer even when using a ladder.


Use the Right Ladder
Using the right equipment is important. If your employees need access to differing degrees of height, it may be necessary to provide specific equipment to meet each requirement. Ladders need to be selected and provided on the basis of suitability for the role and the risks employees are likely to face. Ladders provided for work should be subject to inspection and maintenance to ensure they remain suitable for the task.


Stabilising the Ladder Base
Proprietary equipment is available in a number of formats that allow you to take ground conditions into consideration. These range from simple friction devices, such as ladder mats, to ancillary equipment designed to increase the footprint of the ladder, lowering the centre of gravity and preventing the ladder from moving.

Alternatives include the use of ‘chocking’ equipment, fitted to the base of the ladder to prevent it slipping away from the resting surface and maintaining a good ladder position. For soft ground, consider the use of ladder spikes, stakes driven into the ground and lashed to the ladder to prevent the base moving.


Stabilising the Top of the Ladder
Precautions should also be taken to stabilise the top of the ladder and prevent slipping on the resting surface. Again, a number of solutions are available depending on the specific circumstances. The simple use of ladder ties is an option where the resting surface is secure and tie points are available – common practice on access scaffold ladders for example. The aim is to prevent the top of the ladder from moving as loads on the stiles shift.

In some cases, it is necessary to adapt the ladder to the specific circumstances. For example, gutters, soffits and fascia or barge boards are often unstable and incapable of supporting the ladder and the loads placed upon it. Ladder standoff equipment allows the ladder to be placed against a solid structure, such as the supporting wall, while keeping the weight of the ladder off the weaker elements, such as gutters. Standoffs are proprietary devices that should not be improvised and should be compatible with the ladder in use.


People Factors
Employees need to be trained and informed in how to use ladders and ancillary equipment safely. You should assume that your employees will get it wrong from time to time; initial training, along with refresher training, is important. Once you are happy your staff are competent, you should continue to supervise activities and monitor standards to identify previously unforeseen risks