Aluminium Ladders: Their History, Features and Usage

Widespread use of aluminium did not occur until the early years of the 19th century. This was because the special process for extracting large quantities of aluminium from ores such as bauxite did not exist. For that reason, aluminium often had a higher value than gold. In the court of Napoleon III (1852–1870), aluminium plates were reserved for use by the most important guests. It wasn’t until the mid-1880s that an electrolytic process known as Hall-Heroult made it cost-effective to extract aluminium from ores. By the end of the 19th century, aluminium came into wide use as a building material all over the world. The dome of the Chief Secretary’s building in Sydney, Australia is made from aluminium, as is the apex of the Washington Monument in the US. This set the stage for the transformation of this versatile material into highly functional and durable aluminium ladders.

Aluminium Ladders: Their Early Use

In the 1930s, a fire department located in Norway asked ALCOA, the Aluminium Company of America, whether there was an alternative to the heavy and bulky timber extension ladders that they were using. They needed a type of ladder that was more reliable and easier to handle and manoeuvre. In addition, an innovative, more efficient and useful ladder design was needed by business, industry and DIY users. Because it’s light in weight, an aluminium ladder is ideal for a myriad of commercial and domestic uses. Unlike a wooden ladder, it is not susceptible to fire. Aluminium does not rot or weaken the way wood does when exposed to the elements. This means it can be stored outdoors with no problem. However, it’s best to keep your aluminium ladder in a dry and covered area, so that it’s ready to use at a moment’s notice and not wet and slippery. Aluminium isn’t affected by fire or insect damage. In addition, it’s impervious to water and isn’t likely to crack or warp. Finally, an aluminium ladder will never rust or corrode, although it may develop some minor pitting on the surface. It’s important to note, though, that aluminium will conduct an electric current, so it’s wise to choose a timber or glass fibre ladder for work around electrical sources. However, specially insulated aluminium ladder models are available, but usually at higher prices.

Aluminium Ladders: Many Positive Features

Since an aluminium ladder is much lighter in weight than timber or glass fibre, it’s a good choice for most commercial or domestic applications because the ladder can be handled by a single person, including women and older children. An aluminium ladder is likely to cost less than timber or glass fibre ladders too. For example, you can expect to pay well over £120 for a timber loft ladder, while an aluminium one sells for about £55, a saving of over 50%. When considering ladders, be sure to factor in that a timber ladder does require regular maintenance, and an aluminium ladder does not. So, over time, timber ladders can be more expensive, even if their initial price is less. Aluminium ladders also are an earth-friendly, environmentally sound choice, because aluminium is the 3rd most abundant element and can be recycled quite easily.

Aluminium Ladders: Attributes and Types to Consider

Most users want their ladders to be as strong as possible, and aluminium has a superior weight-to-strength ratio, thanks to a high degree of tensile strength. This can vary from 200MPa to as much as 600Pa. MPa is a measure of how much stress a material can withstand without stretching, rupturing, breaking or otherwise failing. In contrast, the MPa of pine wood is 37MPa to 45MPa. This means aluminium has superior strength and usually is preferred over steel because of its density and light weight. There is an excellent range of ladders made from aluminium to choose from. Leaning or lean-to ladders are popular with homeowners for exterior work like painting or washing windows on upper storeys. Aluminium step ladders can be used indoors or outdoors. For extra safety and stability you can buy aluminium ladders with rubber feet, stabilising bars, locking clamps and even step platforms to provide extra stability at height. Some aluminium step ladders have extra-wide rungs or steps that make the ladder very easy and comfortable to climb. Aluminium roof ladders are designed with curved bars at the top capable of hooking onto the roof to provide safe access.

Aluminium Ladders: More Types

Aluminium scaffold towers are ideal for applications where it’s necessary to work at height for extended periods. These ladders have special configurations of hinges and sections that make them the ladder of choice for this type of work. There’s also a special-purpose ladder for use on stairways that can be adjusted to accommodate the uneven nature of the steps. If you need several types of ladders, then take a serious look at combination ladders, which can be configured in a variety of ways, including stair ladder, extension ladder and leaning ladder. If you have limited storage space, a telescoping ladder is a good choice. This ladder has a number of sections, each of which telescopes into the section below it. Each section of the ladder features a locking mechanism, so the ladder can be telescoped to just the height that’s needed. Regardless of the ladder chosen, deploy it only on dry, level surfaces. If you’re using a straight or extension ladder, always put it up at a 75 degree angle, so that the distance between the base of the ladder and the vertical surface it’s leaned is about one-quarter of the ladder’s total height. Never use a steeper angle, because the ladder may fall when the user leans away from it. Shallow angles are dangerous as well, because they may cause the ladder to lose its grip on the ground. To avoid this problem, it’s wise to fit the ladder with stabilisers that improve its grip on the surface on which they’re deployed.

So, there we are. Over the last 80 years aluminium ladders have developed to provide a wide variety of innovative and useful applications in both commercial and domestic settings.

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Extension Ladders: How to Use and Secure Them Safely

Extension ladders are indispensable items when it comes to carrying out tasks at height in residential, trade and commercial settings. But like any tool that’s used to work at height they can be dangerous if they’re not set up and used correctly.

Here are some alarming numbers: in recent years, falls from height have become the most common type of accident that results in fatality. Every year, more than 50 people are killed in such falls. The injury statistics aren’t much better. Annually, HSE reports that nearly 2000 people suffer an injury related to a fall from height. Although this dismal statistic has declined from an alarming 2631 injuries in 2001-02, HSE still cautions users to be very careful when using ladders. In that spirit, we’d like to offer some tips and hints for using an extension ladder, which is one of the most popular types available today.

Extension Ladders: How Are They Different?

An extension ladder is a fixed type of ladder that consists of two or more sections. In a two-section extension ladder, for example, the sections can be slid together for easy storage. In use, one section is raised above the other, effectively doubling the ladder’s safe reachable height. This is accomplished by an inbuilt system of clips that locks the ladder’s sections together once it’s raised.

Extension Ladders: Choosing the Right Length

Many people who use extension ladders are unaware that there’s a set formula for determining the ideal length needed to perform a specific task. Here’s how to do it.
First, measure the maximum height you need to reach. The maximum height is the height of the wall or surface you’re scaling. You then need to consider the ratio of 1 unit out from the wall for every 4 units up. Here is an example below using Pythagoras Theorem:

With an extension, it’s also important to understand its dimensions. An important dimension is a ladder’s maximum extended length, which also can be thought of as its maximum usable length. When figuring maximum extended length, be sure to leave plenty of overlap between the sections. The minimum overlap should be listed on the ladder’s label, but a good rule of thumb is to allow at least three feet of overlap. Do be aware that the closer you get to an extension ladder’s maximum length, the greater the chance that the ladder will wobble. It’s also important to check the ladder’s maximum safe load limit, which is the combined weight of the user, plus and tools or materials being used or transported up or down the ladder.

Extension Ladders: Rules for Safe Use

Perform a thorough inspection before using an extension ladder. Take it out of service if any parts or components are missing or excessively worn. Always place an extension ladder on a dry and level surface. When erecting this type of ladder, take care to ensure that the horizontal distance between the feet and the top support measures 1/2 of the working length (usable length) of the ladder. Put another way, the ladder should be leaning at a 75-degree angle from the ground. Setting the right angle is critically important. If the angle is too steep, there’s a chance the ladder will tip over backwards. Too much of an angle can result in the ladder being bent or in the bottom sliding out. Tie the top of the ladder to sturdy and reliable support points. Tie off or brace the ladder near the base. Without an available object or structure, drive a long stake deep into the ground and use that for tying off.

Extension Ladders: More Safety Considerations

Never use metal ladders around electrical sources. Only set up or take down an extension ladder when the sections are nested, not extended. Don’t climb higher than the fourth rung from the top. Never leave an extension ladder unattended, especially if there are children about. To deploy an extension ladder safely, lay it on the ground close to where you’ll be using it. Brace the ladder’s feet against something solid. Grasp the topmost rung in the centre, and lift the top of the ladder overhead. Then, walk the ladder to a vertical position by grasping the rungs in succession. Lean the ladder against the wall at the recommended distance. Before setting up an extension ladder, thoroughly clean its feet to remove any dirt or other materials that might cause slipping. When working on an extension ladder, keep at least three points of contact, i.e., two feet and one hand. Always keep your feet on the same rung and wear sensible, non-slip footwear.

Extension Ladders: About Stabilisers and Caps

A ladder stabiliser bar is a component that’s fitted to the bottom of the ladder. It is a bar that is much wider than the ladder itself. This additional width lends an extra measure of safety to an extension ladder. The feet on the stabiliser help to spread the load of the ladder, and because they’re finished with a non-slip material, make the ladder much more secure and prevent it slipping sideways. Stabilisers are essential if you must work at height for extended periods. Another device for ensuring ladder stability is plastic or soft rubber caps / mitts / pads that slip over the top of each stile to improve contact.

To get the most from extension ladders, follow all manufacturers’ directives for safe and effective use.

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Scaffold Towers: Their History, Components and Use

Many people think that scaffolds and scaffold towers are a relatively modern development. Not so. Scaffolds were used in ancient Greece at least 500 years BC. Records of ancient cultures in Egypt, Nubia and China indicate that these cultures used scaffolds extensively. Many early African cultures made use of scaffolds. To reach the apex of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo designed his own scaffold, which was unique because instead of being deployed on the floor, he built his scaffold on brackets that were fitted into holes near the top of the chapel’s windows.

To facilitate work at height, a scaffold tower often is used instead of scaffolds. These are free-standing systems that are easy to move and adjust. A typical scaffold tower is fitted with castors that allow it to be moved. The castors lock securely into place when the tower is in use. Work platforms are accessed by an internal ladder system.

Scaffold Towers: Purpose, Structural and Safety Requirements

Scaffold towers are designed for long-duration work-at-height tasks. Their platforms are much more comfortable and safer to stand on than the rungs of a ladder. A major danger associated with standard ladders is overreaching, i.e., leaning too far to the left or right. To avoid overreaching, conventional ladders must be moved constantly, while the secure platform of a scaffold tower allows for greater reach without excessive and dangerous leaning. For information about the British standards for tower scaffolds, it’s wise to refer to the BS EN1004 standard.

Scaffold Towers: An Overview of Their Components

There are three major components of a scaffold tower: bars, frames and platforms. The bars and frames, which are usually made from aluminium or steel, provide the framework for the tower. Aluminium tubing is preferred because it’s light in weight and highly resistant to corrosion The bars are components that join the frame sections together. In many modern tower scaffolds, nuts and bolts are not needed, and a tower can be set up quickly by one or two workers. Once the tower structure is erected, the platforms that provide the tower’s working surface are fitted. These are made from seasoned wood, and come in a variety of thicknesses. Their length can vary, with the maximum being approximately 2.5m.  Other platform materials include steel, aluminium or laminate boards.

Scaffold Towers: Basic Components

A scaffold tower’s base section is one of its most important components. A solid and stable base unit means the tower will be safe for working at height for extended periods. Remember, though, that a scaffold tower’s base is only as stable as the surface on which it’s erected. That surface should be clean, dry and free of impediments. Although tempting, it’s never wise to use the cross braces to access a tower. Always use the tower’s integral ladder. One of the most important components of a scaffold tower is its bracing system. Always connect frames and panels with diagonal and / or crosswise braces. This will ensure that the vertical members are laterally and adequately braced.  Because the sections of the tower are stacked, it’s critical to use cross braces / bars to keep the structure square, level and plumb. Always secure brace connections to prevent them dislodging.

Scaffold Towers: More About Components

Every scaffold tower should be fitted with a guardrail system. In fact, standard rails are required on all towers. Install the rails at both ends of every platform and along all open sides of the structure. Always perform work from a platform, not from its ladder or other parts. Do ensure that the platform’s safe working load will accommodate both the worker and any tools and materials being used. In addition, platforms must be locked / secured to the horizontal bars in the frames to prevent dangerous uplift.

Scaffold Towers: The Importance of Regular Inspections

Before using a tower on a building site / industrial setting a competent, qualified person should perform a safety inspection. This is especially important for newly erected structures.  An inspection is also needed if there have been extensive alterations to the tower or if there has been an event that might compromise its integrity. If a tower is left in place for more than seven days, it’s wise to re-inspect it. If an inspection uncovers any parts or components of the tower that are deemed unsafe, the defect should be clearly marked. The tower should not be used until the condition is resolved by repair or replacement of the defective part. Only the manufacturer or a person designated by the manufacturer should be authorised to perform repair tasks.

Scaffold towers are the preferred access method for working at height for extended periods.

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