Ladders, stepladders, and platforms – which is right for your workplace?

Ladders, stepladders, and platforms – which is right for your workplace?

Tips to choose the best working-at-height solution

Good health and safety at work is all about minimising risks, and preferably eliminating them. One of the most hazardous of working practices is working at height, which is why there is a whole raft of working at height rules and regulations.

The ideal scenario is to avoid people working at height, but this is not always possible. If your employees must work above ground level, then you’ll need to decide whether to provide a ladder, stepladder, or platform to minimise the risks and make it safer to work at height. Choosing the wrong solution could have fatal consequences.

In this article, you’ll learn how to decide between a ladder, stepladder, and platform.

Why are there working at height regulations governing ladders?

Because they are easy to use (and a cheaper option), you may be tempted to provide a ladder when another solution would provide more safety. Of course, there is a balance to be achieved – taking three days to erect a platform for a 20-minute job is impractical and costly.

Therefore, while you’ll win no prizes for putting cost ahead of safety, the rules also realise that there are practical issues to be addressed. In general, ladders may be deemed appropriate for short-duration work, but they don’t minimise the risks in the same way that other solutions do.

Is a ladder appropriate?

The first thing you must do is carry out a risk assessment to determine what the risks are and if there is a safer way to get the job done. If the work must be carried out at height, then you should address the following questions before deciding to use a ladder:

  • Can the ladder be secured to prevent slipping to the side or outwards?
  • Will the worker be protected against elements that will make working on a ladder more hazardous (e.g. weather, people, or vehicles)?
  • Will the worker have a safe handhold?
  • Will the ladder get the worker close enough to the work to be done, to carry out the task safely (without stretching)?
  • Will the ladder be short enough to prevent it from swaying or vibrating?
  • Is the ground and structure on which the ladder will rest strong and stable enough to support the ladder and worker?
  • Is a ladder appropriate for the worker to carry tools, etc. as they climb and descend?
  • Is the employee using the ladder suitably trained and/or experienced to do so?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, then you should seek alternative solutions.

Is a stepladder a better choice for working at height?

A stepladder should provide a safer solution than a leaning ladder, but there are caveats which include:

  • They must be spread to their fullest extent
  • They must be properly levelled
  • The worker must not stand on the top platform to perform a task of work
  • The stepladder must have a stay, chain, or cord to prevent it from spreading
  • Only one worker at a time must use a stepladder

What about a working platform?

A working platform is the safest solution for working at height. It will eliminate almost all the risks of working on ladders and stepladders, and should ensure the job is done faster, and more effectively and efficiently.

When a platform is used, you should ensure that it has appropriate guard rails, toe boards, and other protective measures (for example, safety harnesses if necessary). There are rules that dictate these measures (for example, on the height and dimensions of guard rails), which are available in our suite of health and safety documentation.

Summing up

It’s tempting to use a ladder when working at height. It’s quick and easy to use, especially when working on jobs of a short duration. However, the time that a job takes should not be the deciding factor. You must consider risk when deciding whether an activity working at height justifies using a ladder. If your risk assessment shows that there is low risk with a short duration, then a ladder may be the most appropriate equipment solution.

Finally, you should ensure that:

  • Work at height is planned and organised properly
  • The employees working at height are competent to do so
  • The risks have been assessed and appropriate equipment is provided
  • The equipment to be used for working at height is inspected and maintained properly

In a future article, we’ll discuss the safe use of ladders. In the meantime, for more information or to book your free, no-obligation demo and discover an easier way to comply with health and safety laws in the workplace, contact Sentry today.

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