Employers have a duty under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 to protect employees from falls from height, which are one of the major causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. Falls from ladders are particularly common, with employers often failing to take the simple, sensible precautions necessary to keep people safe.
Whilst ladders and stepladders are often suitable for tasks that are assessed as low risk and are of short duration – i.e. where a higher level of protection is not justified – employers should first carry out a full risk assessment of the planned task, the equipment and the area in which it is to be used. If the use of a ladder is deemed appropriate, consideration should be given to whether it is the right type of ladder for the job, and the person using it should be trained in its safe use.
In a recent case, a worker at a children's centre was injured when he fell off the ladder he was using to prune trees in the garden of the centre. He severed a tendon in his arm when it became impaled on a metal railing. The job was one that he had carried out in previous years, but the ladder provided was not suitable for the task. The provision of alternative equipment, such as extendable tree pruners, could have minimised the health and safety risk involved.
The man's employer denied liability for the accident and attempted to lay the blame at his door. When the case came to court, however, the judge found that it was up to the employer to ensure the equipment provided offered appropriate protection given the nature of the task.
The Health and Safety Executive has useful guidance on the safe use of ladders and stepladders.