Although the UK has relatively low numbers of workplace fatalities, accidents still happen. The most recent HSE figures show that 142 workers were killed in 2020/21, a slight increase on the five-year average of 136. The most common cause of death was falling from height, accounting for almost a quarter of all fatalities.
Most serious falls occur in the construction industry, but other sectors are also at risk. Ladders are used for maintenance tasks in a variety of environments, and poor ladder safety is a common cause of accidents. For example, ladders are involved in 40% of all falls from height in the food and hospitality sector.
Even if you rarely use ladders at work, refreshing your knowledge of ladder safety is a good idea. In this blog we’ll cover the laws around ladder safety, as well as offering some useful tips on keeping yourself and your employees safe.
What does the law say about ladder safety?
There is a common misconception that ladders are banned outright in the workplace. In fact, the HSE acknowledges that they are often the best option for “low-risk, short duration tasks”. However, ladder use is still subject to strict regulation.
The main piece of legislation to consider is the Work at Height Regulations 2005. This imposes a duty of care on employers to their employees in any situation where “a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”.
HSE advises employers to take a three step approach to working from height:
- Avoid working from height at all if possible
- Prevent falls by using the correct equipment
- Minimise the distance and consequences of falls
Failure to comply with the Work at Height Regulations can have serious consequences. In a recent case, a plant hire company was fined £67,000 for failing to protect employees who were installing cladding on a roof. The investigation found that workers had been forced to step onto parts of the roof with no edge protection, putting themselves at risk of a 30ft fall.
So whether ladders are involved or not, the risks of getting the process wrong are significant, regardless of whether anyone comes to harm.
How can I improve ladder safety?
As with any workplace hazard, the first step to avoiding injury is carrying out a thorough risk assessment. This should include:
- The duration of the task (the HSE doesn’t recommend using ladders for more than 30 minutes at a time)
- The positioning of the ladder, including any nearby hazards such as cables and windows
- How the ladder will be secured to reduce the likelihood of a slip or fall
- How to minimise the risk of serious injury if a fall does occur
If your risk assessment determines that a ladder may be used, there are a number of other precautions you should take:
- Only place ladders on a flat, stable surface.
- Make sure that no loads of more than 10kg are carried up ladders.
- If possible tie the ladder off to stop it slipping or moving;
- Perform checks before every use of a ladder.
- Perform another check every time something changes, e.g. moving the ladder or using it for a different task.
- Carry out more thorough ladder inspections every few months. This should be performed by a competent person, and the findings should be written down.
- Use ladder tags to clearly mark the last and next inspection dates on all ladders.
- Make sure your ladders comply with the EN131 standard.
As well as ensuring that ladders are in good condition, you should also make sure that workers know how to use them safely. Remind your employees to keep both feet on the ladder when working, to maintain three points of contact when climbing and to avoid the top three rungs at all times. Introductory and refresher ladder safety training sessions could be an effective way to manage the risk.
If you have any questions about ladder safety, or any other aspect of workplace H&S, contact your local Health & Safety Dept.