Step Ladders: Taking Steps To Reduce The Risk

Peninsula Team

September 24 2010

The Peninsula 24 Hour Health and Safety Advice Service have recently taken a number of calls about the safe use of stepladders. The reason for the calls - a number of minor accidents and near misses. Step ladders are everywhere, we have them at home, we have them at work. They are particularly useful. They don’t look dangerous and yet they cause many accidents, often minor but sometimes significant.

There are 3 steps to the elimination of accidents involving stepladders. In the simplest of terms these are: i) making sure the stepladder is maintained and fit for use, ii) positioning it correctly and iii) using it safely. 

All stepladders and ladders in the workplace should be clearly and individually identified. They should be listed in a register and subject to routine inspection for damage or defect. The register should record details of each inspection. In addition the stepladder should be checked by the user every time it is used. They should be checking for: 

• missing, damaged or worn anti-slip feet on fibreglass and metal ladders, which are essential for good grip
• objects stuck in the feet such as stones which will preventing the feet from making direct contact with the ground
• oil or grease on the feet
• mud, grease or oil either on the steps or the stiles (the sides)
• cracks in the rungs or stiles of the ladder
• missing, broken or weakened steps
• missing or damaged tie rods and bracing, damaged welds and loose or missing rivets.

If any of these defects are present the stepladder should not be used until it has been repaired or replaced.

Safe selection and positioning of a stepladder is essential. In use it should be possible to complete the task from the third step from the top or lower. They must have all 4 feet firmly in contact with the ground and placed with the steps front-on to the work activity. If the task is expected to take more than 30 minutes consider the use of more substantial, more stable means of access. 

Domestic step ladders, in good condition, are suitable only for the occasional light use in office and commercial premises. In industrial situations and where they are subject to heavy regular use they should always be built to meet British Standard EN131 and suitable for ‘industrial’ use.
Sound construction and maintenance of stepladders alone, will not prevent accidents and injuries. They must be used as intended. Workers using a stepladder have a responsibility to use it safely and employers have a responsibility to give their workers basic training and instruction. While this may sound over the top, in practice it is not and need not be. Remember training can include working demonstrations by a manager or supervisor and short tool-box talks, provided they are structured and recorded. Training does not have to be a ½ day or longer formal training session.

The basic rules for the safe use of a stepladder are to:

• make sure the legs are fully open and any locking devices fully engaged before climbing the steps
• make sure there is an available handhold. This means having a suitable handrail or not working off the top two or three rungs, depending on the 

design of the stepladder

• avoid working side-on; especially important if applying force, such as when drilling. Where work which involves applying a side-on-force that 

cannot be avoided the risk of overturning is significantly increased. Prevent the steps from tipping over by tying the steps to a suitable point to keep them stable and upright

• avoid using a stepladder as a means of access from one level to another level, such as a roof as they can become unstable when you are stepping on or off them. (There are some specially designed stepladders suitable for this purpose.)
• avoid over-reaching - make sure your belt buckle (navel) stays within the stiles and keep both feet on the same rung or step throughout the task
• avoid carrying loads greater than 10kgs

Working within these simple commonsense rules will significantly reduce the chance of an accident involving the use of a stepladder. 

If you would like further advice on this subject or information on any aspect of this article do not hesitate to call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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