Ladders – risk assess and proceed with care

Earlier this week, we highlighted the dangers associated with roof work – according to Ireland’s Health and Safety Authority’s (HSA’s) A Review of Work-Related Fatalities in Agriculture in Ireland 2011-2020, 33% of fall-related fatalities (in Ireland) were as a result of fragile roofs.

The same document revealed that 14% was as a result of falling from a ladder, so here, we highlight some top tips to work safely while using one, and we look at why you should always carry out a risk assessment.

Very serious injuries can be sustained from unsecured ladders that can slip sideways at the base.

While most ladder injuries result from falls, others are caused by lifting a ladder, slipping or falling when carrying it, or the ladder collapsing or falling.

The HSA advises that ladders should only be used as a means of access, or for work of very short duration.

Image source: HSA

Ideally, where farmers are undertaking the work themselves, they should use a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) or a tower scaffold to undertake the work safely.

Securing the ladder

Both ladder stiles should be tied to a structure that can support it.

The HSA advises that securing ladders at the top is best practice.

Securing at the bottom or middle is not very effective to prevent sideways slip, unless it is done with equipment designed for this purpose.

Alternatively, you can use an appropriate ladder-stabilising device according to manufacturer’ instructions.

When can you use one?

Ladders should only be used where a risk assessment shows the use of other work equipment is not justified.

The work at height regulations do not ban ladders but do require careful consideration to be given to their use.

As a guide, only use a ladder or stepladder:

  • Where the work is of short duration – they are not suitable where they are in one position for 30 minutes or more;
  • Where the risk is low – a fall is unlikely or the fall would be unlikely to cause injury;
  • For ‘light work’ – ladders are not suitable for strenuous or heavy work;
  • For work that does not involve carrying heavy or awkward tools or equipment;
  • Where a handhold is available both for climbing the ladder and in the working position;
  • Where you can maintain three points of contact (hands and feet) at the working position.

Check it

Before using the ladder, be sure to visually check it. The inspection should pick up obvious defects such as:

  • Cracked or bent stiles or rungs;
  • Corrosion;
  • Defective or missing fittings or ties.

Every time you use a ladder, the HSA advises that you must:

  • Plan and organise the work;
  • Carry out a risk assessment;
  • Only use a ladder where a risk assessment shows the use of other work equipment is not practical;
  • Select and use the most appropriate work equipment;
  • Ensure that people working at height are competent;
  • Ensure that equipment used for work at height is inspected and maintained.

Do a risk assessment
A risk assessment is a careful examination of what could cause harm to people as a result of a work activity. It allows you to take the necessary precautions to prevent harm occurring.

There are five steps to a risk assessment

  1. Look at the hazards.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how.
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or whether more
    should be done.
  4. Record your findings.
  5. Review your assessment.