Working at height: trust but verify your equipment

Working at height: trust but verify your equipment

Russell Stuart, Marketing Manager, ZARGES

Who hasn’t seen the iconic images of The Empire State Building’s construction team eating lunch with the entire New York stretching below their feet? These images have long romanticised the job – and the thrill – of working at heights, firmly imprinting the joy of pioneering construction methods into our subconscious. Yet, not many talk about another, rather grim, side of the story. Even today, with all the safety and security measures in place, working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries.

In October 2018 the UK Health and Safety Executive reported that over the last five years ‘falls from a height’ accounted for 26% of all fatal injuries, topping the league table with an average of 37 fatal injuries per year. ‘Falls from a height’ were also the 4th biggest cause of non-fatal injuries at 8%. These statistics suggest that ladders are still not being used correctly by workers or the ones that are being used are not the right type of equipment fit for specific jobs. Having ladders professionally inspected on a regular basis is also an effective method of preventing falls and injuries. As a specialist in access and special constructions, ZARGES has comprehensive expertise in safety and advises companies on how to prevent accidents in the long run.

Despite long-term reductions in the number of workers injured each year, the kinds of accident profile remain similar. If there are no precautions in place, a person could not only fall from a ladder – but could also continue the fall through fragile surfaces, such as a fragile roof or flooring. With this in mind, organisations commissioning and supervising work at height, cannot become complacent in their approach to ensuring personnel safety.

A failure to remain vigilant about their ladder safety could spell trouble for businesses over time. Reputation is one of first assets an organisation could lose to repeated staff injury. With construction margins remaining slim, there is a limited room for error. Health and safety should remain key for organisations that want to build a good name for themselves and ensure their business remains healthy and future-proof. Those that don’t take the issue of health and safety seriously, risk labour shortages, lower productivity and even revenue losses from lost orders or even penalty payments.

The risk of losing a valued member of staff to injury should make businesses sit up and take action over investing in regular ladder inspections – and that’s without worrying about the potential cost of lawsuits.

Planning your work at height

Every organisation with employees working at height even occasionally should be aware of the risks and take proactive steps to safeguard against those.

Common risks include:

  • Fall from height – could occur if the ladder or person slips, if equipment topples over or collapses;
  • Struck by falling objects – the ladder or other items could be dropped onto people below;
  • Electric shock – could happen if it comes close to a live electrical conductor e.g. power lines.

Therefore, it is important to ensure that any work at height is well planned and properly organised. It is paramount to ensure that the ladder is the right type, size and class of construction. We’d advise to always avoid using domestic ladders. Any ladder used by a tradesperson should confirm to the new EN 131 Professional standard. Avoid ladders that have been painted over, as it may hide faults and cracks. The key is to ensure that the ladder is properly inspected and maintained.

The ladder inspection process

Knowing the ladder inspection process is the first step to ensuring effective health and safety. For instance, occupational safety regulations require all companies to have their access systems periodically inspected by a qualified person. To become a qualified inspector, a member of the team has to complete a training course with The Ladder Association, which will check whether the guidelines are adhered to. The frequency of inspection depends on a range of factors from how often ladders are used to the stress products are under and any previous defects.

UK businesses are required by law to comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR). Complying with these Regulations involves employers and those in control of any work at height activity making sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by trained personnel. Most importantly, companies must stay vigilant about employees using the right type of equipment for working at height. Both employers and employees have a legal obligation to take reasonable care and ensure their health and safety duties and requirements are complied with.

It must be remembered that not every ladder is the same. Each one, therefore, may require different maintenance schedules. It’s important that businesses choose a manufacturer that is compliant. For example, fixed ladders should bear CE marking and should be certified to the EN 1090 and EN 14122 standards.

Step-by-step guide for ladder inspections

By following this simple checklist companies can rest assured knowing they have taken the right steps and precautions towards a safer working environment.

  • The ladder inspection begins with a visual and functional inspection of each ladder to ensure that all rungs are securely attached and that all screws and nuts are not loose;
  • The inspector should also check the slip resistance of ladder feet and ensure that there are neither missing parts nor severe signs of wear;
  • It is important not to forget to record the inspection result on a control sheet for every ladder;
  • After the inspection, an inspection plate should be affixed to the ladder in a prominent position if it is deemed ‘out of order’;
  • Defective ladders must be removed from use until they have been repaired.

Regular ladder inspections are critical because they enable companies to remove sources of hazard in a timely manner and be on the safe side in terms of occupational safety. It’s also important to note that ladders can save businesses money, and enable them to effect repairs, maintenance or install equipment in hard-to-reach places. That being said, ensuring that ladders are used in total safety and conveniently at any time relies on having frequent inspections.


Working at height: trust but verify your equipment