Working at Heights

Fall whilst using a stepladder


Stepladders are widely used as a means for accessing out of reach areas and carrying out a range of work at height tasks. The range of ladders available gives potential falls from just off ground level to approximately 3 metres. Falls may be due to incorrect ladder selection or usage, incorrect positioning of the ladder, failure of the ladder, or a combination of these factors.

Accident description

A self employed decorator died as a result of a stepladder collapse. Investigation suggested that one of the upper steps had failed under the decorator's weight, causing the lower stile of the ladder to break (figure 1). The general condition of the ladder was poor (figure 2) and the timber around the failed step was found to have deteriorated significantly, in part due to the storage conditions.

  • [1]

Figure 1

Figure 1 - ladder with broken step and stile.

  • [2]

Figure 2

Figure 2 - damage and cracking around step.

Business costs and benefits

Cost of accidents

  • The cost of even minor injuries may run into many hundreds of pounds.
  • Painters and decorators often work at customers' premises and in private homes, where others may witness incidents. This may have a detrimental effect on the businesses reputation.

Cost of preventative measures

  • The cost of new aluminium or timber ladders is between £70-£150. There are also a range of products increasingly being used by painters and decorators that provide some form of protection from falls, e.g. podium steps costing around £500.
  • For painting large areas, some firms are also now hiring MEWPs - these cost around £ ?50 to hire for a day, but do make the job quicker and safer if used properly. HSE have produced a case study showing the benefits using MEWPs can bring to the painting and decorating trades.
  • Ladder safety training courses are available at around £100 per person.

Reducing risk of falls

The Working at Height Regulations (WAHR) came into force in April 2005 and aim to reduce the number of accidents involving ladders through:

  • Avoiding working at height where possible;
  • Ensuring that all work at height is properly planned and organised;
  • Ensuring that the right equipment is used for work at height, and that this equipment is used safely;
  • Requiring that stepladders are only used for short duration, low risk tasks, where other work equipment is not more suitable.

The latter point can be addressed through carrying out a thorough risk assessment and ensuring that ladders are the right kit for the job, are used properly, the users are competent and checking the ladder is in good condition before using it

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