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Ladder Safety – A Beginner’s Guide To Climbing With Confidence

Using a ladder improperly or in unsafe conditions can result in serious injuries and even death. According to the Health and Safety Executive statistics, falls from height accounted for a fairly significant percentage of workplace (non-fatal) injuries (8%) in 2021/22. For the same period, falls from height were the top cause of fatal work injuries, costing 29 lives.

It’s safe to assume that not all the injuries from falling from a height will be ladder related, but it’s also safe to assume a sizeable chunk will be. For example, in the food and drink industries, over a period of three years, analysis shows 40% of falls from height were from ladders.

Ladder-related injuries also occur in homes and other domestic settings. By taking the time to learn proper ladder safety techniques and following safety guidelines, you can reduce your risk of falling and serious injuries.

Choosing The Right Ladder For The Job

Choosing the right ladder for the job is important to ensure not only your safety but also to get the job done efficiently. Here are some things to consider when choosing a ladder:

  • Type of ladder. There are several different types of ladders to choose from, including step ladders, extension ladders, combination ladders, etc. Each type of ladder is designed for specific tasks and environments, so it’s important to choose the right one for the job.
  • Size. No matter what anyone says, size matters. Ladders come in a range of sizes, and the right size will depend on the height of the work area and the weight capacity required.
  • Weight capacity. Ladders have a weight capacity rating, which indicates the maximum weight they can safely support. All ladders in the UK should now be designed and manufactured to meet the standards as stipulated under BS EN 131 and be able to support a maximum load of 150kg. If you’re using an older ladder, it’s important to make sure that it has a weight capacity that is adequate for the task and for the person using it.
  • Material. Ladders are available in a variety of materials, including aluminium, fibreglass, and wood. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose one that is appropriate for the job and the working environment.
  • Safety features. Look for ladders that have safety features such as non-slip feet, locking mechanisms, and secure hinges. These features can help to prevent accidents and injuries.
  • Purpose. A ladder can be used for various purposes such as painting wooden fascias and soffits, gutter cleaning or repairs, or indoor DIY projects at home. Based on the task at hand, the ladder type and size will need to be considered.

By taking these factors into account, you can choose a ladder that is appropriate for the job, safe to use, and efficient. It’s also important to always follow any safety guidelines and instructions provided by the ladder manufacturer for using the ladder.

Inspecting The Ladder

Before using a ladder whether old or new, it’s important to inspect it for any damage or wear and tear. This includes checking for loose, damaged or missing rungs, damaged side rails, broken fixings, and any other potential defects.

Determining The Maximum Weight Capacity

Now you’ve inspected the ladder and it’s good to go, it’s just as important to check the maximum weight capacity to ensure that the ladder can safely support you and any equipment you might be using. Exceeding a ladder’s weight capacity can result in the ladder becoming unstable or collapsing, leading to serious injury or worse.

Setting Up Your Ladder

It’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for setting up a ladder. Different types of ladders, such as extension ladders and stepladders, have specific setup guidelines that should be followed to ensure safety. For example, some basic instructions for setting up an extension ladder are:

  1. Make sure the ladder is on a stable, level surface and the bottom of the ladder won’t slide or flip.
  2. Position the ladder so that the upper section is properly resting in front of the bottom section, with the bottom section facing the wall or other supporting surface.
  3. Place the feet of the ladder so that the distance between the feet and the top support is one-quarter of the working length of the ladder. This will create a 75-degree angle between the ladder and the ground.
  4. Open the ladder from the ground and ensure that any locking mechanisms are securely in place.
  5. Position the ladder so that at least 1 meter (3 feet) extends above the landing platform.
  6. Secure the ladder’s base with braces or tie it off to a stable structure. If no such structure is available, use a stake driven into the ground.
  7. Test the ladder for stability before climbing.
  8. Place a visible cordon around the ladder to prevent anybody from walking into it and potentially knocking you off.
  9. If possible have somebody foot for the ladder to provide extra protection against the ladder sliding or flipping.
  10. When you are done using the ladder, make sure to properly close and store it.

A guide on specifically setting up stepladders can be found here.

Using Ladders Around Electricity

Using a metal ladder near electricity can be extremely dangerous. If you need to use a ladder near electrical lines or equipment, be sure to follow proper safety guidelines. This may include wearing insulating gloves, using a non-conductive ladder, and maintaining a safe distance from electrical sources.

Weather Conditions

Weather conditions can also impact using a ladder safely. Wind, rain, and ice can make ladders slippery and unstable, increasing the risk of falls from height. To use ladders safely in adverse weather conditions, it’s important to secure the ladder firmly and use caution when climbing. In extreme weather conditions, it may be necessary to postpone ladder work until it’s safe to proceed.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Wearing personal protective equipment, such as hard hats and gloves, can help to protect against ladder-related injuries. It’s important to wear the appropriate PPE for the task at hand and to ensure that it’s all in good condition. Also using fall protection equipment, such as harnesses, can help to prevent falls from ladders. When working at heights, it’s important to choose the protection for the job and to use it properly.

Ladder Maintenance

Regular maintenance of ladders is essential for ensuring that they are in good working condition and safe to use. As mentioned earlier, this includes inspecting the ladder for any damage or wear, such as loose or missing rungs, damaged side rails, and other defects.

It’s also important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maintaining different types of ladders, such as cleaning and lubricating moving parts on extension ladders or tightening bolts and screws on stepladders. By regularly maintaining your ladder, you can help to extend its lifespan and ensure it’s safe for future use.

To Finish Up

Prioritising ladder safety in the workplace and at home can help to prevent serious and potentially life-threatening or fatal injuries. By following established procedures for setting up your ladder, maintaining it for future use, following any manufacturer’s guidelines, wearing the appropriate PPE and using fall protection equipment if necessary, you can feel confident you’ll have a safe and successful experience.

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