The 4 most serious factors in ladder-related injuries and fatalities
Posted on 18th Sep, 2019 | By Lorretta Tatham
Working at height is infamously dangerous. Between 2018 and 2019, a total of 40 workers in the UK died from fatal injuries sustained from falls at height, and hundreds of people injure themselves falling from ladders every year. It’s wise to remember that not every instance of this is due to the ladders being tall – serious injuries can happen even when there’s relatively little distance involved. Here, we’ve summed up some of the biggest factors in these accidents, and how you can avoid them.
One of the most common – but most important – bits of safety advice about ladders is this: keep your hips inside the guardrails at all times. When something you need to access is just out of reach (but only just), it can be tempting to lean over so you can reach it. It’s one of the most dangerous things you can do when you’re up a ladder, as it’s then all too easy for it to overbalance and fall – and take you along with it. It’s a particularly common scenario for people using garden ladders, and can result in some serious injuries even at relatively small heights.
All official guidance with ladders also strongly advises against using the top three rungs or treads, as this can equally cause you to overbalance. When you’re descending the ladder, on the other hand, you’ll need to ensure you face the ladder when climbing down, and keep your weight centred. Try to avoid carrying heavy loads either way, and check the manufacturer’s information for the ladder’s rating and weight limit.
Slips and trips
Obviously, adverse weather poses a particular risk for any kind of ladder use, and ideally any kind of working at height should be postponed until it’s dry and bright (or as far as it can be in British autumn and winter!). While this is sensible for many DIYers, it’s not always an option for contractors and professional tradesmen. Therefore, risk assessments must be undertaken to evaluate the dangers of working in wet or icy weather, due to the effect it could have on manual dexterity and concentration – both of which increase the chances of slipping. Wearing Personal Protective Equipment, such as gloves and non-slip boots, is a useful (and sometimes critical) way of cutting down on these sorts of accidents.
What’s more, the ladder itself can sometimes slip against the ground if it’s positioned incorrectly. Many modern ladders have specially designed rubber feet to guard against this possibility, but it’s still worth inspecting the manufacturer’s guidelines on safe use, and ensuring that all anchor points and similar safety devices are being appropriately employed.
The ladder itself breaks or fails
An inspection of the ladder is one of the most vital (and yet often one of the most overlooked) aspects of using a ladder. They should be subject to bi-annual ladder inspections – a service we provide right here at Browns Safety – at the very least. For older models, the rate of inspection should ideally be increased to once every three months. Wooden ladders especially can be prone to becoming weakened in damp conditions, as the excessive moisture damages their structural integrity. Similarly, aluminium ladders can become rusty, heavily affecting their sturdiness and reliability. If you have even a fraction of a doubt about the ladder you’re using, and even the slightest reason to believe that it won’t provide an adequate guarantee of your safety, don’t take the risk!
Using the wrong ladder for the job
This is perhaps a bigger one than most people give it credit for, but using the right ladder for the job is crucially important. Trying to shoehorn a ladder into a purpose it’s not designed for means that it underperforms, and underperforming could be the difference to your safety. Roof ladders, for example, are designed to fit onto roof eaves with specially designed hooks, while combi ladders are specifically designed to fit into a multitude of roles, including being used on stairs. Trying to cut hedges by leaning an extended telescopic ladder up a tree rather than using a garden ladder, for example, is incredibly dangerous, especially if you’ve got sharp tools like cutters or chainsaws in your hands.
The material is important too – the best ladders for electricians are insulated against electricity, for example, and regular aluminium ladders are inadvisable unless they’re specifically designed for this purpose. The ladder’s height also comes under this section, as you need to make sure it’s the right height for the job. If it’s too short, it can result in an accident from overreaching, which we detailed above.
Here at Browns Safety, we offer a range of access equipment courses including our Ladders and Steps course, which covers a lot of these dangers, plus many other things you need to know in order to stay safe on ladders – regardless of your profession, experience or skill level. You can book places for yourself or your employees by giving us a call on 01282 615517, or clicking on the links above!