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Using ladders in the specialist access industry

Falls from height are the largest cause of death in the construction industry, accounting for 50 per cent of all fatal accidents.

Ladders which form part of a temporary access system are often the only feasible and pragmatic option to access hard-to-reach areas and carry out essential maintenance and repair work, including work to church steeples, heritage buildings and industrial chimneys.

Specialist access safety is not just an issue for these companies as other stakeholders, including site owners, principal contractors and trade union safety representatives, need to be aware how work should be carried out on the sites which they have control over.

Clients and stakeholders should bear in mind some key considerations when employing specialist access methods on site:

Which access method?

Due to the limited options of equipment and site constraints for access to high structures, the use of specialist access ladders may be the only reasonably practical option.

However any decision to use ladders should always be arrived at by specialist access companies who are aware of the hierarchy of access methods and following completion of a site specific risk assessment, that should always first consider alternative methods of access including powered access.

Weather beware

Both client and specialist contractor should always anticipate adverse weather conditions and take suitable precautions as stated in the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Rain, ice, snow and high winds have the potential to increase the risks when working on ladders at height.

Fall protection

Collective prevention measures are commonplace, with safety nets, perimeter catch fans and soft landing systems appearing regularly on construction sites.

These collective systems are not always suitable for specialist access work as nets may need to be installed too far below the work for them to be effective.

Specialist access operations vary from usual construction activities as work is often carried out using rope access and personal work restraints may be more suitable.

These include the use of a safety harness, energy absorber, anchor point, lanyard and safety lines and the back-up safety rope becomes an efficient personal fall protection system.

Future maintenance

When the use of ladders is the determined option owners and designers should consider the installation of permanent ladders to avoid additional risk in installing and removing ladders each time a structure needs to be accessed.

Check competency

The client must make sure that the company employed to carry out work at height is competent to do so and is aware of the hazards and precautions to be taken for the work to be carried out safely.

The specialist contractor must also make sure that any installation or repair and the materials used will not create additional hazards for future maintenance or access.

Wayne Murry is chair of the Safety & Access Committee at the Association of Technical Lightning and Access Specialists (ATLAS)

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