Ladders: How to Use Them Safely

LaddersAlthough ladders seem like ordinary everyday objects, they are responsible for many accidents each year. There are over 100 major injuries caused every month by people falling off ladders and steps. “Falling from height” is one of the top 3 causes of accidentals deaths in employees. With this in mind, we’d like to go through some information relating to your ladder and how to use it safely.

 Just about everyone has the need to use a ladder at some point in time. Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast that does projects around the home or a tradesman who works with business and industrial users, it’s vitally important to understand how to use ladders safely in order to avoid falls and other injuries. When you select the right ladder, working above ground level (also called working at height) will never become a problem. In addition, it’s important to choose the correct ladder for the job at hand, place the ladder correctly and be familiar with the various types of ladders that are available. Whether it’s aluminium ladders or ladders made from fibreglass or timber, the rules are the same. So, if you want to be safe, let’s get started!

Ladder Safety: Choose the Right Ladder

To be sure you select the right ladder for the task you have t do, you should have a basic understanding of how ladders are classified in the UK. The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) has set up three categories into which most ladders fall. Class 1 ladders carry the highest rating. This means that the ladders in this class have the highest degree of quality and strength. Such ladders are generally used in industrial settings, where a more heavy duty industrial ladder is needed. The next class of ladders the EN131 grouping that replaced the old UK Class II ladder category. In the UK, this class is known as BS EN131. Ladders from this class are appropriate for light commercial and trade use and for heavy-duty DIY applications. Class III ladders are suitable only for light domestic use, and never should be employed in a trade or commercial environment.

Ladders: More About the British Standard Classes

Before selecting a glass fibre, timber or aluminium ladder, you should have a basic understanding of the specialised categories that fall within the BS classes mentioned above. These standards usually relate to a specific type of ladder. For example, there are standards that relate just to wooden and timber ladders and steps (BS 1129:1990). BS 2037:1994 refers to all metal and aluminium ladders and steps. BS EN 131:1993 covers both timber and aluminium ladders and steps. To make these classifications immediately visible to users, they are colour-coded according to a specific scheme. Class 1 ladders are marked in blue. Class EN131 ladders carry yellow colour coding, and Class III ladders commonly are marked in red. Look for the appropriate colour coding on a ladder’s rubber feet, on any warning labels affixed to the ladder and in any instructions or manuals that come with a ladder.

Aluminium Ladders: Some Important Safety Tips

Even though ladders are colour-coded to ensure that the correct one is chosen for a given task, ladder users should know how to use them safely too. Here are some general tips on using your ladder safely:

1) Before using a ladder, you should give it a thorough inspection. If you discover any loose parts, cracks or other damage, do not use it.

2) When deploying a ladder, make sure the surface on which you’re setting it is flat, stable and even.

3) Never use a ladder on wet or slippery surfaces.

4) Don’t place a ladder on top of another object, such as a table, in an attempt to gain additional height. It’s important to use the 1-to-4 (1:4) ratio when setting up a ladder. This rule says that for every 4 feet of ladder height, the ladder should be placed 1 foot away from the vertical surface against which it’s leaned.

5) When using an A-frame ladder, such as a step ladder, be sure the brace is locked securely into place.

6) If you’re using a ladder to climb onto another surface, such as a roof, the ladder should extend at least three feet higher than that surface.

7) When ascending or descending, always face the ladder and keep your body centred between the stiles (the poles either side of the ladder).

8) When using a step ladder, it’s important that you don’t stand on the topmost platform, unless it is a platform step ladder specially designed for the purpose.

9) Never leave a ladder unattended, especially if there are children about.

10) If you’ll be working around electric sources, be sure to choose a timber or fibreglass ladder, since a metal or aluminium ladder will conduct an electrical current and potentially harm anyone stood on it.

Aluminium Ladders: Tips for Maintenance

The most important act of ladder maintenance is a pre-use inspection. Also, extension and step ladders should be checked for frozen or broken latches or joints. An aluminium ladder needs to be free of broken welds and cracks.

Timber Ladders: Tips for Maintenance

 If you notice any cracks, splinters, rot and broken or loose hardware on a wooden ladder, take it out of service immediately. Never paint a timber ladder, since the paint may hide problems. In this case, linseed oil or clear varnish is a better choice.

Ladders: What the HSE Suggests

HSE’s tips for ladder and step ladder safety contain a wealth of important information you might not find anywhere else, so it’s a good idea to visit the HSE website to see what their recommendations are in full. We’ve included a few here:

1) For leaning ladders, the maximum safe ground side slope is 16 degrees, and the maximum safe ground back slope is 6 degrees (everyone – protractors at the ready!)

2) Rest the upper part of the ladder on a strong point, not on plastic gutters.

3) Try to work on a ladder in short, 30-minute intervals.

4) Keep the loads you’re transporting up or down the ladder to about 10kg or less.

5) When climbing, be sure to maintain a secure handhold on the stiles. Never overreach to the side, and keep both feet on the same rung.

6) For a step ladder, make sure there’s enough space to open it fully, and always use any locking mechanisms.

There is a world of useful and important information about ladders on the HSE website at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/. Just type “ladders” into the search box to see the many resources, downloads and documents are available.

Hopefully now you have a much better idea of ladder safety. Remember: when selecting and using timber, glass fibre or aluminium ladders, it’s important to heed all relevant safety rules.

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