The accident

In March 2017 an employee of HPAS Ltd, trading as Safestyle UK (S), fell over three metres from a ladder while trying to install a bedroom window on the first floor of a property. As a result of his fall the worker required surgery for a broken knee cap. Following the accident, the HSE found that the installation of windows was not being routinely carried out from the inside of properties, which could have reduced the work at height risk, and ladders were being used in unsafe ways. There was also no system in place for monitoring the safety of work, leaving employees unsupervised and therefore at greater risk. There were problems in the planning of the work, including the poor selection of equipment, plus the ladder used was not footed or tied which meant it was able to slip.

In court

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR), which states that employers must ensure that work at height is properly planned, appropriately supervised, and carried out in a manner which is safe as far as is reasonably practicable. The company was fined £850,000 with £1,083 in costs.

The right tools

For work of this type a ladder is unlikely to be suitable. They are good for general access but less so as a substitute for a work platform. This is outlined in the legislation. To comply with the WAHR, ladders may only be used for work at height: (1) when a risk assessment has shown that using safer alternatives is not justified because of the low risk and short duration of use; or (2) because there are existing workplace features which prevent other access equipment from being used.

Tip. If your workers need to use both hands to carry out the task while on the ladder or use their hands to carry equipment up and down, a straight ladder is unsuitable. Three points of contact must be maintained.

Correct process

If you have determined that a ladder is the right access equipment, having regard to the above restrictions, there are several actions you must take.

Tip 1. Firstly, if you have five or more employees your risk assessment must be written down. This should demonstrate that the work is low risk and explain the precautions to be taken. 

Tip 2. Train workers in the content of the risk assessment, correct ladder use, care and inspection. You can use the HSE’s leaflet (INDG455) to support your training. It includes sensible advice and clear diagrams showing how three points of contact works in practice and how to secure the ladder.

Tip 3. Check that the specification for ladders is up to the job. For site work, an industrial grade ladder is needed.  A ladder inspection checklist can be downloaded free here.

If three points of contact cannot be maintained, a straight ladder is not suitable. Your risk assessment must show that a ladder is justifiable because the work is low risk and of short duration.