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Record take up for Ladder Association Training

Excellent News?

I personally think this is good news but not excellent. I still find it hard to believe how few people are being trained on Ladders and Stepladders. I have put the story of the growth in take up below these comments and it is well worth a read.

If we consider the legalities of Ladder Training, ladders are work equipment and therefore adequate training was required by the PUWER back in 1998. No take up generally and falls from height continued to account for a grossly unacceptable number of deaths and major injuries. By using the statistics compiled from RIDDOR it also became clear that 60% of the major injuries were from ‘Low falls’ (falls from below head height). This indicated a need for a change to current legislation (Construction Health and Safety regulations 1996) to take this into account.

Martin Holden, HM principal specialist inspector for the HSE Construction Corporate topic group than created a committee of experts to discuss what had to be done. This committee became known as ACWAHT (Advisory committee on Work at Height Training). The reason that it ended up being all about training is due to the very simple fact that people are required to create an unsafe situation. Equipment is inanimate and therefore benign but with human intervention it can become dangerous. The team then decided that all persons involved with Work at Height must be Competent and in order to measure competency they had to redefine it. This is what they came up with and this is how the HSE are measuring Competency for work at height in a court of law.

Click on the picture and scroll down to be able to click on “what do the regulations say about competence”

HSE Competency link

HSE/ ACWAHT competency Definition

With this definition so crystal clear why then such a slow and low take up? There are a number of factors to take into account but perception of hazard is key.

Certain equipment is safer by it’s nature than other equipment. MEWP’s  and Mobile Towers utilise collective Fall Prevention and are first choice for a lot of work at height. At OTJ Training we provide training to the highest standard via IPAF and PASMA. There is general acceptance that training on this sort of equipment is necessary and beneficial though the equipment is statistically safer than a ladder. We train people on the use of Harnesses and how to always attempt to create a restraint situation if possible to prevent a fall. Clearly training is vital and a lot of people realise this. All of this to prevent a fall and in fact we MUST to do all that it reasonably practicable to prevent a fall.

Falling however is not the problem. Felix Baumgartne fell from the edge of space, 38894 m from the ground and he is fine.

The reason that he is fine is simple. He decelerated prior to impact. With the use of ladders and Stepladders there is only acceleration and impact. We know from one of my previous blog posts that the impact force of an 80Kg load falling 2m is around 15600 n so with that in mind it is absolutely vital that people do not fall off. Sadly the only thing that prevents people falling off is the way that the equipment is used and the quality and suitability of the equipment.

Unlike MEWPs etc there are no control measures to prevent falls or mitigate the consequences of landing at speed so the only sensible option is training and supervision. The Ladder Association Training programme is quite simply the best that there is and last year we trained over 5000 people. Sites that had banned Stepladders have realised that its people that need to be controlled and are now asking for a Ladder Card to prove competency instead of an outright ban. As long as those supervising are also trained and competent we can all work effectively, efficiently and above all safely. I am proud to be one of the Ladder Association’s Lead instructors and to sit on the Training Committee helping with the development of the training course to make sure we meet the needs and challenges of industry. OTJ Training offer the full range of Ladder Association training courses  so please take a look at http://www.otjtraining.com and join the thousands of Competent Ladder Users.

The number of people trained by the Ladder Association in the safe use of ladders reached an all-time high in 2012, passing 5,000 for the first time.

The 5,052 people trained in 2012 marks a 47% increase on 2011’s figure of less than 3,500. In training almost 1,000 people during November, the association also reached its highest ever number trained in one month.

Technical director Don Aers said: “It is great to see that more people and organisations than ever are taking the safety message on-board and understanding that there is a vital need for people who use ladders for their work to be trained and competent.

“There are a number of reasons for such an impressive increase, but first and foremost it is evidence of the increasing recognition within industries that ladder training is essential. One of our main goals at the Ladder Association is to make sure that industries where ladders are commonly used understand the dangers of work at height and the need for people using ladders to be competent.”

During the year the Ladder Association took over the Ladder Exchange programme that had previously been run by the Health & Safety Executive. Ladder safety publicity associated with this boosted training numbers.

Mr Aers added: “Our campaigns throughout 2012 played a large part in getting the safety message out, and we have plans to do even more in the coming year. By the end of 2013 we are aiming for another equally sharp jump in the number of people who have the training and understanding they need to be safe at work.”

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Are stepladders dangerous?

No, people can use them in a dangerous way but stepladders in themselves cannot be dangerous. In fact when was the last time you heard of a stepladder attacking someone? Leaping out from behind a bush with the aim of inflicting injury to unwary passers-by?  Same as me I guess, never. So why have some companies banned stepladders?

Some companies have blamed the HSE and stated that they banned them. The HSE responded to this ridiculous allegation with this-HSE great health and safety myths (Ladders)

It is clear that the people that write the law and enforce the law have not banned them and in fact encourage their use in the right circumstances.  Inappropriate use and poor or inappropriate equipment is a significant contributory factor in accidents. Statistically lots of people fall from ladders and stepladders so some companies just banned them to reduce the statistics. But it’s not the Ladders that are at fault, it’s inappropriate use or equipment that leads to the accidents.

It is therefore very important to know when Stepladders are appropriate and when they are not. I have been asked frequently what height would be acceptable and how high is too high but it’s not as simple as that. People love numbers and datum’s from which to work and I will admit that I too like to know exactly what I can and can’t do.

The problem is always the same, variables. Variables are things that can change as opposed to constants which stay the same. Constants as far as we are concerned are minimal. We have things like acceleration due to gravity which is constant enough to use directly but in order to have others we have to use estimates. These estimates are inaccurate but at least allow us to move on with what we are trying to do. One of these usable estimations is that the apparent average weight of an adult human male is 80kg. This is widely used in MEWP’s and for the purposes of testing Harness Lanyards.

This leads me to the seemingly simple question of how high is too high and the rather complicated answer of “it depends.” We have to consider impact force if we are to make a reasonable decision. I decided to actually work out the impact force of a 80kg load dropped 2m as a comparison. I was shocked by the result. The results were completely reliant upon the amount the falling body travelled during the impact. If the 80kg landed on concrete and only travelled 1cm then the force would be 15.6Kn which is about 1560Kg which is about 1 ½ Tons! This is clearly a lot so why aren’t people dying from low falls all of the time?

Well actually there are huge numbers of injuries and still far too many deaths from falls from height and that is why training is so important. If a person fell 2m and landed on their feet bent their knees and also rolled, the impact would be dissipated brilliantly and it is unlikely that an injury would occur but if a person fell backwards because they lost their balance, they wouldn’t be able to put their arms out so they would hit the back of their head with a potentially catastrophic force. This is why there are so many injuries. Between those two possibilities are an infinite number of different falls resulting in an infinite number of different outcomes.

What you land on will also have a massive effect on the outcome. If you fell onto something hard and sharp it will cut into you. If you land on something blunt and soft it will cushion you so you could fall further without injury. Frequently, people falling from steps or ladders land, partially inverted (Upside down) on something sticking up from the ground like a chair, table or machine. It’s just a matter of luck then as to whether a person is paralysed or just suffers a ‘but of a bump’.

What I am getting at, all be it slowly, is that there cannot be rules like how high because it depends what a person would land on etc. All we can do is make sure that we address each individual situation at the time, in the place and understand what we are looking for. This is why training is vital. With both ladders and Stepladders it is only making the right decisions and taking the right precautions that accident and injury can be avoided. It’s not the ladders, it’s the user.

I am aware of certain companies issuing a permit to work for stepladders. Again, I have to wonder at this decision as invariably in my limited experience, the most important and mandatory requirement is not even asked for i.e. “is the person that will be selecting and using the equipment trained and competent”?Image

Really this competence should be all we need because a competent user will look at the hazards, assess the risks dynamically and take the necessary precautions. Ladder Association User Training provides all these skills, making a successful trainee provably competent as required by law, in just half a day. Just do it.