Working at height myths debunked
The HSE has banned the use of ladders on building sites . This is not the case as ladders and stepladders can be a sensible and practical option. They can be used when the use of other work equipment is not justified because of the low risk and short duration (no more than 30 minutes at a time).
You need to be formally “qualified” before using a ladder at work . No, but workers need to be competent. This means having the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to use a ladder properly for the work being carried out, or being supervised by somebody who can perform the task competently. Training often takes place on the job and does not always have to be in a classroom.
You are working at height if you’re walking up and down a staircase at work . No, working at height does not include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building.
Two feet and one hand must be on a stepladder at all times when carrying out a task . No, this isn’t true. When workers need to have both hands free for a brief period to do a job using a stepladder, e.g. putting a box on a shelf or installing a smoke detector on a ceiling, they need to maintain three points of contact at the working position. It can be two feet and the body (use knees or chest to help with stability) supported by the stepladder. Ensure a handhold is available.
The HSE has banned the use of ladders to access scaffolds and you will be fined if you ignore this ban . No, this isn’t true. Ladders can be used for access as long as they are of the right type, e.g. a suitable grade of industrial ladder, in good condition and effectively secured to prevent movement. Ladders should extend at least one metre above the landing point to allow for a secure handhold when stepping off.
Staying in control
To avoid some of these myths being bandied about in your workplace, make sure that all staff are aware of the risks of working at height. Demonstrate your commitment to keeping them safe by preparing for any works at height, providing the correct equipment and supervising staff to make sure that they are sticking to safe systems of work.
Tip. Use our risk assessment - working at height to manage the task and reduce the risk. By completing this prior to the job commencing not only will you be compliant with the legislation, but you will be able to cancel out any embedded rules of thumb that your staff may be employing, but which are poor practice or an excuse not to do the task.
Tip. Use our safe system of work - ladders and safe system of work - stepladders to cover the precautions necessary to protect those involved in the work, including other contractors, members of the public and anyone else who may be affected (see The next step ).
For our risk assessment - working at height and safe systems of work, visit https://www.tips-and-advice.co.uk , Download Zone, year 21 issue 22.