"Falls from heights are a major workplace hazard resulting in fatalities and injuries across a broad range of Victorian industries, with the construction industry accounting for 27 per cent of all related injury claims." WorkSafe Media Release.
Working on ladders is a huge hazard.
The Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) reports that for the two year period of a study undertaken by them (2002/3-2003/4) ladder use was related to at least 12 deaths and more than 5000 hospital treated injuries. More than 80% of those injured were male. MUARC's winter 2006 edition of its HAZARD newsletter [pdf], focuses on ladder related injuries, and provides these and other statistics, as well as some practical advice.
Part 3.3 (Prevention of Falls) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (2007) specifically targets falls from heights of more than two metres, which result in a high number of deaths. There are two codes to support the regulation:
- Prevention of Falls in General Construction Compliance Code (2008)
- Prevention of Falls in Housing Construction (Code of Practice No.29, 2004) - note that although this is a Code of Practice under the old Act, it is still 'state of knowledge'
For more information on prevention of falls, go to the FAQ
Working from heights - what are the regulations?. Basically, the regulations say that ladders should only be used as more or less the last resort if undertaking a task at heights.
Portable ladders should comply with the requirements of the relevant Australian Standard:
AS/NZS 1892 Portable Ladders.
Fixed ladders should comply with the requirements of the relevant Australian Standard: AS1657 Fixed Platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – Design, construction and installation.
In addition, there is also the following advice from the WorkSafe site:
Are ladders being used safely?
Ladders should only be used for very light work where there is no danger of over reaching and the worker can steady themself at all times. Ladders should only be set up on firm flat surfaces. Single and extension ladders should be fixed against movement or footed by another person.
Make sure the ladder is high enough for the job so that workers do not have to stand higher than 900 mm from the top (for single and extension ladders) or the third tread from the top plate of a step ladder. Domestic grade ladders are not suitable for normal building work.
Metal or metal-reinforced ladders should not be used in proximity to any live electrical equipment or power lines.
Ladder bracket scaffolds are only suitable for very light work such as signwriting and should never be set up at heights greater than 2 metres.
Trestle ladder scaffolds should also not be used where a person or object could fall more than 2 metres.
Stepladders, or something similar, should be available in most workplaces (for example offices, schools) to enable workers to reach higher shelves, etc. Read more.
All employers have a general duty of care under Section 21 of the OHS Act to
provide and maintain a healthy and safe workplace, systems of work and plant for employees and others. So even if there are no specific regulations on ladders, the employer must take all reasonable steps to make sure that any risks associated with working on ladders are eliminated or reduced as much as possible.
There is no such thing as a 'ladder license' under Victorian OHS legislation. However, there seems to be a view, particularly in schools, that such a thing exists.
The Victorian Education department has guidelines/policy on working at heights.
Previous advice from the Department stated: 'do not use a ladder where
you could fall more than 2mts unless you have authorisation'. There are
also compliance guidelines on the Education Department site for
Prevention of Falls and Preventing Falls of greater than 2 metres. For
links to the department guidelines, go to this page in the Education section of this website.
There are also short courses available on height safety (eg provided through TAFEs or private providers).
- Prevention of Falls – Ladders: a 6 page brochure from the VWA intended to illustrate practical methods of reducing the likelihood of injuries from falls, both above and below two metres. The publication covers risk assessment, examples of acceptable ladder use, correct use, and ladder maintenance
- NSW WorkCover has a useful page on ladders; and has issued an Alert [pdf] following two serious (one fatal) incidents
Basic steps to Preventing Falls from Heights - also from the VWA, provides guidance to assist employers in identifying risks and situations where someone may fall from height. It includes solutions on what safety measures are needed to prevent a fall or minimize the risk.
The VWA Falls Prevention website, for more fact sheets.
- From the UK's HSE, a page on Using Ladders Safely and a number of guides::
- From WorkSafe British Columbia (Canada) a well-illustrated booklet Safe Ladder Use [pdf]
(last amended October 2012)