Ladder Accidents At Work – On The Rise?

It’s only a ladder – why falls from ladders constitute a genuine hazard in the workplace!

Falls from ladders and stepladders account for nearly one third of all fatal and major injuries and it is estimated they cost the UK economy £70 million each year. These staggering statistics come from the Health and Safety Executive’s report on ‘Costs to Society’ and drive home the fact that ladders are, unless used properly, inherently dangerous.

On average, 12 people a year are killed at work after falling from ladders and over 1,200 suffer major injuries as a result. Ladders remain the most common agent involved, accounting for more than a quarter of all falls from height. Concerned that this number doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller, the HSE is trying to drive home the message that ladders should only be used for low-risk, short duration work, and are issuing safety information for employers on exactly how and when ladders should be used. Although it may seem like basic common sense, employers often disregard the potential threat to their worker’s safety when using ladders, even so-called low-level step ladders. They define ‘short duration’ as between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the task at hand. Now while this may be fine for a quick DIY job, on a building site ladders are in constant use and pose a considerable risk for workers operating in difficult conditions.

There are basic safety measures that the HSE directives expect everyone to take when using ladders, such as ensuring that people are trained in their use and don’t attempt to ‘overextend’ themselves whilst using the ladder. The general condition of the ladder has to be of a high standard, with no broken or dirty, slippery rungs. The ladder has to be correctly positioned and, if working at height, there should always be someone to ‘foot’ the ladder at the bottom or secure anchor points for the legs to prevent it from slipping or falling. Obviously, these are once again common sense measures, but on a busy building site things like excessive mud build up that could cause someone’s foot to slip from a rung making it difficult to ensure that every ladder is in perfect working order and will not constitute a safety hazard. However, this does not negate the duty of care of the employer, and the HSE is concerned that attitudes towards ladder safety are becoming slack in many situations.

Falls from height make up the largest number of serious injury compensation claims brought in the workplace. Anyone working at height, either on scaffolding or on ladders, has to be aware of the potential dangers involved and it is up to the employer to make sure those risks are kept to an absolute minimum. The question every employer should ask before using ladders is, does the situation warrant the use of a ladder or is there another, safer method of operation available? If ladders have to be used, then the HSE guidelines have to be taken into account. Otherwise the employer could be leaving themselves open to a hefty compensation claim and fines if someone is injured whilst using the ladder.

There has been a recent television campaign where an employee talks about being given ‘the wrong kind of ladder’. While this may prompt much eye rolling from viewers and even puzzled questions as to exactly what is meant by the ‘wrong type of ladder’, different types of ladders are designed for different jobs. Forcing an employee to use ‘the wrong type of ladder’, even for what may seem like a quick and simple job, could actually result in an expensive claim against the employer, chastisement and a fine from the HSE and a disgruntled and injured employee. Ladders are a serious issue, and their correct usage should be taken very seriously indeed if we are to see a decline in the frightening statistics concerning injury and deaths as a result of their usage.

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