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01st May 2015

Working at height – safety when using ladders

Work at height - safety when using laddersSome workplaces have a step stool or an access ladder of some sort for accessing files, boxes and other materials stored at height. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 set out the term ‘ladder’ to include a fixed ladder or a stepladder.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) incidents are reported to the HSE on a monthly basis. This can lead to time off work, causing various direct and indirect costs for the employer and the person who fell. Many of the injuries caused by falling from a ladder are caused by inappropriate or incorrect use of the ladder equipment.

The facts

  • In 2013/14 falls from height were the most common cause of fatalities, accounting for nearly three in ten (29 per cent) of fatal injuries to workers (RIDDOR)
  • In 2013/14 39 fatal injuries to workers involved falls from height
  • The three fatal slip and trip injuries were to a glazier (construction industry), a landscape gardener (admin and support), and a care worker ( health and social care )
  • 25 work-related fatal slip, trip and fall injuries to members of the public were also reported. More than half (14) of these were falls from a height. The numbers of males and females were almost equal (13 female and 12 male). 23 (92 per cent) involved people aged 65 or over. Two thirds (8 slips and trips and 9 falls) were in health and social care.

The employer’s duty

All employers must ensure that if any work at height is undertaken, a safe system of work must be in place. Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations requires that all significant risks of work at height are risk assessed. The employer must assess if a ladder is suitable and sufficient for the work activity or if other equipment such as a mobile elevating platform is required, such as when accessing windows and other areas outside a building.

Safe system of work and risk assessment

The employer must ensure that a safe system of work is recorded which takes into account the hierarchy of controls:

  • avoid work at height where possible
  • prevent falls from height
  • reduce the consequences of a fall

HSE five step risk assessment process

Employers must follow the HSE five step process to ensure a robust work at height risk assessment is created. The risk assessment will need to cover the following:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
  4. Record your significant findings
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary

The first step when reviewing work at height is to avoid or eliminate the need to carry out work at height. Where this is not possible, the employer ensure there is a robust risk assessment in place and plan the work. The work must only be of a short duration (maximum 30 minutes), be low risk and light - up to 10 kg in weight. A ladder is not suitable for strenuous or heavy work. If a task involves a worker carrying more than 10 kg up a ladder or steps, it will need to be justified by a detailed manual handling assessment and work at height risk assessment.

Legislation – work at height safety

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 set out the requirements of employers for managing work at height. Section 4 (1) states every employer shall ensure that work at height is:

(a) properly planned;
(b) appropriately supervised; and
(c) carried out in a manner which is so far as is reasonably practicably safe.

The legislation that covers the requirement to carry out a risk assessments is:

1.The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: Regulation 3 states that every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of -
 - the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
 - the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking
2.Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 covers duties of person with control of premises
 - Section 4 (3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 sets out the general duties of persons concerned with premises to persons other than their employees.

Instruction, information, training and supervision

Workers should only use a ladder or stepladder if:

  • They are competent - users should be trained and instructed to use the equipment safely
  • They are wearing PPE footwear (e.g. safety shoes/boots or safety trainers). Shoes should not have loose soles, have long or dangling laces, or be thick with mud or other slippery contaminants

Maintenance of work at height equipment

A ladder register log can be used to record visual inspections. The ladder or stepladder should be in a good condition before use.

Pre-use checks and detailed visual inspections

Detailed visual inspections should be recorded. Ladder stability devices and other accessories should be checked pre-use.

Near misses, incidents and dangerous occurrences

The employer must investigate any near miss or incident that occurs whilst using a ladder or stepladder.

Purchasing a suitable ladder or stepladder

The employer should only buy the ladder and associated stability devices from reputable suppliers/manufacturers. Manufacturers will indicate the types of surfaces their products are intended to be used on and the ladder must be a suitable size for the work being undertaken.


Follow all HSE guidelines and industry good practices when selecting, purchasing and using a ladder.

QCS policies

QCS has guidance and policies for management of equipment to support your service in meeting the requirements of health and safety.


HSE – Work at height

The Work at Height Regulations 2005

HSE - Slips & trips and falls from height in Great Britain, 2014

HSE - Management of health and safety at work

Sally Beck RGN, BSc (Hons), MSc, CMIOSH – QCS Expert Health and Safety Contributor

Topics: Health & Safety

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