Employees seriously injured from falls when using ladders

WorkSafe is issuing a safety alert to highlight the dangers of the incorrect selection, set up and use of portable ladders.
Safety alert published

Tuesday 23 Feb 2021

Industries and topics
  • Construction
  • Fall prevention

Background

Recently, two employees in separate incidents have sustained critical head injuries as a result of falling from ladders.

Safety issues

Portable ladders are one of the least stable but most commonly used tools for working at heights. Incorrect selection, set up and use of ladders can result in falls.

Falls continue to be a leading cause of serious and fatal incidents in the construction industry. This industry continues to see serious and fatal fall incidents where risk control measures are not in place or not adequately controlling the risk of a fall.

Recommended ways to control risks

Where there is a risk of a person falling from a height of two metres or more, employers must eliminate or reduce the risk according to the prevention of falls hierarchy of control set out in Part 3.3 of the OHS Regulations.

Employers also have a duty to eliminate or reduce risks to health or safety so far as is reasonably practicable, including the risk of falls from two metres or less.

Ladders must only be used when it is not reasonably practicable to use a higher order control measure.

Employers must consult with employees when making decisions about risk controls.

Hierarchy of control measures for the prevention of falls

  • Level 1 – Work from the ground or on a solid platform (eg use long handled tools, tool extension poles or relocate the task to the ground).
  • Level 2 - Use a passive fall prevention device (eg Elevated Work Platform, scaffolding or guard railing).
  • Level 3 - Use a work positioning system (eg industrial rope access system or travel restraint system).
  • Level 4 - Use a fall arrest system (eg industrial safety net, catch platform or safety harness system other than a travel restraint system).
  • Level 5 - If the above measures are not reasonably practicable for the task, it may be appropriate to use a ladder, provided it is fit for purpose, appropriate for the duration of the task and set up in the correct manner.

Choosing a ladder

If a fixed or portable ladder is used to control the risk of a fall, the employer must ensure that the ladder is:

  • fit for purpose
  • appropriate for the duration of the task, and
  • set up in a correct manner

Before choosing a ladder, the following must be considered:

The user

Is the user competent to use a ladder? i.e. a young worker, a worker in training, familiar with the task.

The environment

  • weather
  • ground condition
  • ground clear of protrusions and materials
  • traffic around the ladder
  • other risks around the access and egress points such as live edges, window and floor voids
  • ability to set up the ladder safely

The task

  • Are materials required to be carried while using the ladder: tools, equipment, materials?
  • Will two handed work be required to be undertaken from the ladder?
  • Will the worker be required to lean from the ladder?
  • Is live power being used from the ladder or is live power located near the ladder such as exposed wiring, electrical appliances or power lines?

The ladder

  • Selecting the appropriate ladder: A frame, extension, step or platform ladder.
  • Condition of the ladder.
  • Is the ladder being set up safely? i.e. secured top and bottom, on level ground and at the right angle (4:1)
This illustration notes what to consider when working with a ladder. 1. At least 1m overhang (for access purposes) and ladder must be secured at the top. 2. Hoist tools etc, in bucket when at top. 3. Both hands on rails. 4. Always face the ladder. 5. Before climbing, test by jumping on the bottom rung. 6. Ladder properly secured at the base. 7. Ground is clear around the base. 8. Lean on ladder at a 4:1 ratio - 4up to 1 out.

Working from ladders

If ladders are being used to access areas for the purpose of inspection or minor works, which requires the use of two hands, consideration for a higher order of control should be given. For example, a passive fall control such as a mobile scaffold or using a EWP.

Three points of contact are required at all times when using a ladder.

Access and egress

Access and egress areas must have safe means of entry and exit. Common means of entry and exit include:

  • permanently installed platforms, ramps, stairways and fixed ladders, that comply with AS 1657 Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – Design, construction and installation
  • temporary access ways and temporary stair systems
  • secured single portable ladders set up at a slope of between 4:1 and 6:1, and extending at least 1m above the stepping-off point

Ladder and stairway landings need to have the same level of edge protection adjacent to their open sides and ends as a solid construction.

Stepladders and trestle ladders should not be used for entry to, or exit from, a solid construction.

Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

Construction work involving a risk of a fall from more than two metres is high risk construction work.

An employer or self-employed person must prepare a SWMS for high risk construction work before work commences. The work must be performed in accordance with the SWMS.

If the high risk construction work changes or if there is an indication that control measures are not adequately controlling the risks, the SWMS must be reviewed and, if necessary, revised.

Legal duties

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, which include that they must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors
  • provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health,
  • provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
  • ensure that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct

Self-employed persons must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of their undertaking.

In addition, where there is a risk of a person falling from a height of two metres or more, employers have specific duties under the Part 3.3 (Prevention of falls) and Part 5.1 (Construction) of the OHS Regulations.