Before using a step ladder - or any other type of ladder, for that matter - it's important to carry out a thorough risk assessment. This will help you to determine whether a step ladder is actually the safest and most suitable solution for the task at hand.
For general advice on how to conduct a risk assessment, we recommend the Health and Safety Executive's guide to Managing Risks at Work. The primary aim of any risk assessment should be to identify potential causes of harm; once a risk assessment has been carried out, action can then be taken to control the hazards identified and minimise the risk of injury and illness.
Common hazards to look out for
There are a number of possible circumstances that can make it dangerous for you (or a worker you employ) to use a step ladder.
Here are some of the hazards you should look for when you carry out your risk assessment:
- An uneven floor that would make it impossible to keep all of the ladder's feet firmly on the ground
- Work that you won't be able to reach without leaning out to one side or standing on your step ladder's topmost treads
- Heavy (or otherwise cumbersome) tools and materials that would need to be carried up and down the ladder
- Complex tasks that would require you to stay on the ladder for more than 30 minutes at a time
- Situations that would make it impossible to maintain at least 3 points of contact with the step ladder
- Anything that might unsteady the ladder or topple it over
READ MORE: How to Use a Step Ladder Safely
You should also carry out a quick visual inspection to make sure that the ladder itself is in good condition and safe to use. For more information on how to inspect your step ladder, see How Often Should Ladders be Inspected?
What to do when you identify potential hazards
If your risk assessment does identify possible hazards, you must take action to eliminate those hazards - or at least get them under control - before you begin using the step ladder.
In some cases, it may be necessary to swap the step ladder for another, more secure height access solution. Ladders should only be used for relatively low-risk tasks that don't take too long to complete. HSE guidance states:
"You should only use ladders in situations where they can be used safely, e.g. where the ladder will be level and stable, and where it is reasonably practicable to do so, the ladder can be secured."
- Health and Safety Executive, ‘Safe use of ladders and stepladders’
On other occasions, you may be able to control the risks identified and still use a step ladder without putting anyone's safety in jeopardy.
Examples of a step ladder risk assessment
While conducting a preliminary risk assessment, you realise that...
- You will need to take both of your hands off the step ladder in order to complete the task before you.
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: In order to maintain the required 3 points of contact with the ladder while working, keep both feet on one step and use the ladder to support your body.
- Your step ladder is missing a foot and wobbles when in use.
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Do not use the damaged ladder. Get a new step ladder and conduct a pre-use check to make sure this one is in good working order.
- The step ladder isn't tall enough for the task at hand (unless you stand on the very top step).
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Since it is not safe to stand on the topmost treads of a step ladder, you will either need to get a taller ladder or complete the work using a different piece of equipment.
Record your findings
If you employ 5 or more workers, you are required to record the findings of your risk assessment. In fact, it's a good idea to record your risk assessments anyway - that way, if an accident does occur, you'll at least be able to demonstrate that you did everything you could to prevent it.
You can download risk assessment templates from the HSE website. Remember to carry out thorough risk assessments on a regular basis, just in case new hazards arise - and don't forget to inspect your ladders before each job, replacing them when they are no longer safe to use!
Buy Step Ladders from Ladders UK Direct
FURTHER READING: Step Ladder Do's and Don'ts