Use your head when working at height

Paul Bruton

Paul Bruton

Ladder safety is too often overlooked, despite the fact that falls from height account for nearly three out of ten fatal injuries to all workers. Paul Bruton, WernerCo’s Product Development Director, highlights the importance of ladder safety at work.

Falls from height are a big risk to all professionals, even for those who wouldn’t usually have considered their work as particularly height specific. For most installers undertaking domestic or light commercial work, use of a ladder or an access platform is commonplace, whether it’s to service a boiler, access loft space, install ducting for a ventilation unit or to replace an air conditioning system in an office.

Whatever the job, safe practice when working at height should be of paramount importance. After all, falls from height most frequently occur not because of a fault in the equipment’s design, but because of the user’s failure to select the proper equipment for the task or to use it correctly.

Grey area
The latest Work at Height Regulations came into force over 10 years ago, but understanding the range of ladder options, and knowing when and where you can use them, is still considered by some to be a grey area. So, what are the best options for optimum site safety?

The traditional ladder will always have its place on the market, but correct use is vital to ensure that legislative requirements are met. Ladders should only be used for short periods of time, for light work and ideally only as a means to get to an access platform, not as an access platform itself.

Making sure the ladder used meets the British or European Standards is also an essential starting point. With counterfeit products now on the market, it’s always advised that users choose a ladder that has been manufactured and tested to meet the quality standards.

A pre-work check is recommended to ensure ladders with missing, damaged or loose components are not used. Before use, ensure all working parts move properly and that all connections are secure, being mindful to carefully check spreaders, treads, ropes and safety feet.

Think first
Before beginning a task where work at height is required, first ask yourself a few questions: Will the task be complete in under 30 minutes? If so, will the ladder be positioned on a level and stable foundation? If not, alternative equipment must be sought.

Ideally, ladders should only be used for short periods of time, for light work and should not be used if the user has to over-stretch. Any work that is done with the aid of a ladder should also always be carried out face-on to the job in hand.

Work at Height regulations prohibit over stretching, which can ultimately diminish productivity if the installer cannot move around easily, or if they are confined to a very small work area. Ladders are also not suitable if there is likely to be a requirement to lift awkward or heavy loads.

With safety of paramount importance, a number of key product considerations should be taken into account at the point of purchase. These include factors such as whether the ladder is equipped with secure non-slip treads; if it’s the right size and material for the job; whether it has a secure standing platform with ample standing space; and if the ladder is equipped with a high safety handrail.

Easy access
For certain tasks, use of a ladder is not appropriate at all, and instead an access platform is required. Work at Height regulations state only that special measures must be taken (the use of an access platform or scaffolding) where it is not possible to maintain a constant handhold on a ladder, something that is particularly pertinent when using a roof ladder.

For undertaking work at height of over 2m, access towers also provide a practical solution for a range of longer-term tasks, such as maintenance and repairs or for longer-term construction projects. Access towers are a safe and reliable alternative to permanent scaffolding, as all come with an inbuilt guardrail to prevent falls. Access towers are portable and, in some cases, compact enough for easy storage and transportation.

For installers unsure of which type of access equipment is appropriate for the job, the Work at height Access equipment Information Toolkit (WAIT) is a free online resource that provides details of some of the most common types of access equipment and where its use is most appropriate.

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