One of the fastest ways to put yourself in hospital is by using a ladder incorrectly. So, before you rush into your next job read our advice.
You don’t need me to remind you that climbing ladders is potentially dangerous, but that’s what I’m going to do:
There are 10 crucial statistics that you need to know about working at heights. According to Safe Work Australia:
- Every year in Australia, an average of 29 people dies from work-related falls.
- Falling from a height was the cause of 11% of all work-related deaths in Australia.
- Half of the fatal falls involved distances of three metres or less (31% from a height of two metres or less, and a further 19% involved falls from between two and three metres).
- 21 employees every day lodge claims for a falls-related injury that required one or more weeks off work in Australia.
- A typical claim due to a fall from height involved 6 weeks off work and compensation paid average over $14,000 per claim.
- The industries with the highest numbers of serious falls-related claims are Construction (20%), Manufacturing (12%) and Transport & Storage (11%).
- Falls from ladders were the primary cause of work-related fatalities from heights (16%).
- Falls from trucks, semitrailers and lorries were the second highest cause of deaths, accounting for 11% of fall-related fatalities.
- Falls-related fatality rates increased with age, with workers aged 45 years and over making up 65% of those who died following a fall from height.
- There has been no improvement in the number of fatalities or the fatality rate in the past eight years.
Work Health & Safety
Work Health and Safety (WH&S) legislation was established to ensure the safety of employees working in commercial environments. Every worker has the right to return home uninjured. WH&S legislation applies only in workplaces, however if you have a contractor perform work at home then your home becomes the ‘workplace’ and as such WH&S legislation automatically applies.
Domestic or Industrial ladder?
An ‘Industrial’ ladder must have a minimum load rating of 120kg and be labelled that it is suitable for Industrial use.
A ‘Domestic’ ladder must have a minimum load rating of 100kg and be labelled that it is suitable for Domestic use.
NB: A ‘Domestic’ ladder is NOT suitable for use in a workplace or in a commercial environment.
Similarly, be aware that just because a ladder is labelled with a load rating, it does not mean that the ladder actually meets the standards. If in doubt, ask for a statement from the manufacturer or distributor.
Only ‘Industrial’ ladders with a load rating of 120kg or higher can be used in a work environment – this includes building sites, factories, shops and offices. NB: Shops and offices are commercial workplaces and require ‘Industrial’ rated ladders.
Stepladders come in several sizes; the three most popular sizes used by homeowners are 2, 3, and 4 steps. Regardless of the ladder size, the following safety rules apply:
- First, when opening a stepladder, check to confirm that the two hinged metal braces, called spreaders, are locked down and straight.
- Never set up a stepladder on uneven ground. Each of the ladder’s four feet must make firm contact with the ground or floor.
- Tempting as it may be, never sit or stand on the very top step of the ladder. In fact, ladder manufacturers—and emergency room doctors—recommend never standing above the third highest step.
- Only climb up the front of the ladder, never the back side. Don’t allow more than one person at a time on a stepladder. (The exception is when using a specially engineered two-person stepladder, which has steps on both sides.)
- When working from a stepladder, keep your hips within the two vertical rails. Reaching too far to the left or right could cause the ladder to topple.
- Remove all tools and materials from the ladder before moving it. You really want that hammer falling on your face?
- Lots of people will lean a closed stepladder up against a wall and then climb it. But don’t. It can easily slide out from under you.
- It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Never stand on the paint shelf.
- Finally, don’t leave stepladders unattended, especially around children. When you’re done working for the day, or if you take an extended break, close the ladder and put it away, or at least lay it down.
Extension Ladder Precautions
An extension ladder provides the easiest, most convenient way to reach high areas around your home, but with greater heights come greater chances for more serious injury. So be careful.
- To extend the ladder, first lay it on the ground with its feet braced against the house. Then raise the top end of the ladder and walk it upright hand over hand. Once the ladder is nearly vertical, grab a rung at about thigh-high, lift the ladder slightly, and walk its base back away from the wall.
- Once the ladder is in position, grab the rope and raise the telescopic section of the ladder, known as the fly, to the desired height. Be sure that both rung hooks lock securely onto a rung of the ladder, then tie off the end of the rope to a lower rung.
- To set the proper ladder angle, use a 1:4 ratio: Divide the ladder height by 4, then move the ladder base that far from the wall. For example, if the ladder is 4 metres tall, its base should be 1 metre away from the wall.
- Both ladder feet should sit firmly on the ground. If one foot doesn’t make contact, don’t stack blocks of wood beneath it. Instead, dig some dirt out from beneath the other foot.
- Never stand an extension ladder on wet, muddy or slippery surfaces.
- Don’t stand higher than the fourth rung from the top.
- Never set up a ladder anywhere near electrical power lines.
- Always face the ladder when ascending and descending. And use both hands to grab the rungs—not the rails.
- If necessary, wear a tool belt or holster to carry tools and supplies. That way, you’ll have both hands free when climbing up and down.
- As with a stepladder, keep your hips within the vertical side rails. Don’t overreach to the left or right.
- I don’t recommend climbing onto roofs, but if you must, be sure the top of the ladder extends at least 1 metre above the point of contact and is secured top and bottom. When you reach the edge of the roof, grab the top of the rails with both hands, then carefully step around the ladder.
If the work to be undertaken is deemed unsafe, do yourself a favour and either hire or buy a scaffold. There are many small foldable lightweight aluminium scaffolds available that are far safer than using a ladder. They may be a little slower than a ladder in setting up but are far superior in safety and usability. Think safe, your life depends on it.
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