How to manage ladder safety

Managing ladder safety is provided for in SA General Safety Regulations 6, 13(A), Construction Regulations s8, and several standards, guides and incident reports.

Access equipment, such as widely used stepladders, must be carefully used and  kept in good working order to ensure safety at work, warned Master Builders Association (MBA) North.

The MBA handbook titled ‘Applying Safe Work Practise in the Building Environment’ warns that a vast majority of serious construction related injuries are caused by falls from heights, with unsafe access equipment or methods frequently the cause.

Ladders, often taken for granted on building sites, hold hidden dangers. The MBA advises that ladders must be constructed from sound materials, and suitable to the particular purpose.

Ladder inspection intervals must be determined according to the environment in which the ladder is used and the purpose for which it is being used.

Ladder safety guidelines include;
• Rungs not split or broken
• Secured at top by rope
• Stood on firm and level surface
• Placement ration 1:4 base-to-height. The base of a 4m ladder should be placed at least a metre from a wall on which it is leaning, and the top of the ladder must extend a metre over the landing or platform
• Not in front of doorways, or closer than 4.6m to bare electrical conductors
• Wooden ladders for working close to electrical conductors, even if not in direct contact with power conductors
• One person on a ladder at a time.
• Tool bag pulled up by rope
• Ascend and descend while facing rungs
• Wooden ladders not painted to make defects visible
• Two ladders not joined together
• Long ladders carried by two people
• Not against a window
• Extension ladders erected in the ‘closed’ position and extended only when in place. There must be at least a three rung overlap at each extension for ladders up to 6m high, and a four rung overlap for longer ones
• Barriers to protect ladders in exposed positions.
Ladder incident investigation example

A worker went up a ladder from a basement to a ground floor to unplug an extension lead. On his way down, the wire which was used to tie the ladder broke, allowing the ladder to move from its position.

The injured worker tried to hold onto the ladder as it twisted and turned, but lost his grip, causing him to fall with his back on a hart item, injuring his back.

The incident investigation found that incorrect material was used, since wire must not be used to secure a ladder.

No worker was at the bottom to hold or secure the ladder. Ladder fixing method and tie was not inspected before use. The ladder did not belong to the injured worker’s company and therefore they were not inspecting or maintaining it.

Ladder safety recommendations

IN the example above, these recommendations were recorded and communicaited by the incident investigator and OHS committee;

• Fall protection plan and risk assessment must be revised
• Workers to receive training on fall protection
• Ladders to be inspected by a competent person before use
• Supervisor to supervise work at height
• When working from an extension ladder, where possible tie off the top of the ladder in an approved, secure manner, alternatively get a collelague to hold the ladder at the bottom
• Check that ladder is level, stable and is set at an angle of 4:1
• Don’t bring ladders on site unless you have permission and know if it’s safe for use
• Leave 1m above if you will be climbing off the top of the ladder.

Sources; Master Builders Association North. Buildsafe SA Safety Alert 31.

Order MBA North ‘Applying Safe Work Practise’ handbook via Doug Michell on 011 805 6611, dougm@gmba.co.za

PHOTO; Ladders are often taken for granted, but cause many serious injuries and other incidents at a wide range or work sites and at home. People often hurt themselves while doing tasks that they believe they are competent to do, but do not perfrom regularly. Ladder work requires two workers.

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