Are combination ladders safe?
Every year hundreds, if not thousands of people are injured through incorrect or inappropriate use of ladders. In 2017, according to the National Safety Council, 36,338 people were injured or killed in the UK from accidental falls at home and work and a significant proportion of these involved ladders. As falls from ladders statistically account for 40% of falls from height and up to two million ladders are in use on any given day, safe use is paramount. Usually this is due to nothing more than ignorance on the part of the user, a shortfall that can easily be avoided by awareness of the potential dangers and the use of the correct equipment for the job.
As combination ladders by their very nature are suited to a variety of jobs and are designed to be adaptable, they feature a number of safety features that are built in for optimum user safety. However, design can only provide a certain level of safety and the benefits of these features can easily be diminished or completely negated by incorrect or irresponsible use. Before use reading all instructions and safety recommendations provided is vital and the work area must be inspected for any potential hazards. Also, the user should make sure there is no damage or wear to the ladder that could make it dangerous to use. If this is the case, the ladder should be replaced or professionally repaired before work commences. User repairs should never be attempted.
Ladder safety checklist
1 – Ground surface – Firstly, check the level of the ground surface, if it is sloped or stepped a combination ladder that can be erected on differing levels should be used. Make sure the ground is free of any debris that could cause the base of the ladder to slip. Clean away any oil or water that could cause slipping, or if possible erect the ladder elsewhere. If ice or snow is present, this should be cleared away, or alternatively work should be postponed until it is gone.
2 – Weight tolerance – All ladders have a maximum weight they can support, which will be listed in the instructions provided with the ladder. This is not just the weight of the user, the weight of any tools or equipment being used should also be taken into consideration. Overloading the ladder with excess weight can cause slipping or even more dangerously, breaking during use.
3 – Weather conditions – Work on ladders should not be performed during snow or rainfall, or in high winds. In fact if there is wind strong enough to lift minor debris from the ground, work should cease and the ladder should be taken down or tied off until the wind abates.
4 – Overreaching – When working on a ladder, the user should never stand on the top two rungs as this will compromise stability. If a combination ladder with extending sections is being used, the upper section should be extended to enable the worker to reach higher. The user should always ensure that their body is positioned over the rungs during work and not reach out to the side. A combination ladder that has an ‘A’ frame should be erected and placed side on to the work area to provide greater reach whilst preserving stability.
5 – Type of ladder – Lastly, and probably most importantly, always make sure that the correct ladder for the job in hand is being used. This is the main area where combination ladders show their strength through versatility. The multiple configurations possible with a combination ladder mean that whatever the work being undertaken, the ladder can be erected in the most suitable and safest shape.
6 – Safe ladder angle – Ladders should always be erected at a 4:1 or seventy degree angle for maximum stability. This is easily worked out by measuring the height that the top of the ladder will reach when in use and ensuring the base of the ladder is one quarter of this distance away from the supporting wall. Combination ladders erected in a stepladder configuration should always be fully extended and locked with a retaining bar to ensure this angle.
While these factors should be taken into consideration for safe use of any type of ladder, combination ladders also have a number of built in safety features to ensure further user safety. It is always worth selecting an aluminium combination ladder as aluminium does not rust or corrode like steel and is extremely hardwearing. It will not warp or splinter like timber or fibreglass and needs no treatment to remain weatherproof. It also has the benefit of being lightweight as well as strong, making it easy to transport and use if working alone. Aluminium also has a high weight tolerance to minimise the risk of overloading the ladder.
Safety features of combination ladders
1 – Two section combination ladders – When erected as an extension ladder, these have great reach for safe work at a range of heights or if erected as a stepladder they have the added stability of increased contact with the ground. This is also enhanced by the addition of a wide stabiliser bar and non slip rubber feet at the base in both configurations. When extended, the sections are locked in place with strong steel auto locking clamps to minimise ‘bounce’ or flexing and when erected as a stepladder the structure is secured with a retaining arm and nylon straps and has the advantage of a double sided shape with rungs on both sides for added access to the work area.
2 – Three section combination ladders – In the stepladder configuration, these have all the safety features of the two section model, albeit with diminished height. However, they have a third section which can then be extended for greater reach, secured again by steel locking clamps. This extends above the stepladder, ensuring the correct seventy degree angle for work whilst working above the centre of gravity of the ladder for maximum stability.
3 – Combination ladders for stairs – These are available in two or three section models that can be erected in the same configurations as the previous models. If it is necessary to work on a sloped or stepped surface, the second section can slide up in a similar style to an extension ladder and be locked securely in place. This allows safe work at the correct angle while the bases of each section sit safely on two different levels. In the three section model the third section can then be extended further and locked in place for greater reach, again at a safe angle over differing levels of ground surface, making them perfect for safely decorating stairs and landings extending over multiple stories.
4 – Three way combi stair ladders – These are the size of a normal domestic stepladder and can be erected in the same configurations as the larger adjustable ladders for stairs. This makes them more suitable for internal DIY jobs where space is limited. They have a thinner construction to fit narrower staircases so lack the stabiliser bar common to larger models but compensate for this with extra wide splayed feet at the base and thick non slip rubber feet for stability and grip. They also have wide ‘D’ shaped non slip rungs for safety and comfort for working at height.
At BPS Access Solutions we stock all the models of combination ladder described above and a wide range of accessories for added safety during use. All our products are rigorously tested to conform to the latest EN 141 safety standards and are supplied with comprehensive instructions, with full advice on how to ensure safety at all times when using our products. We offer free next day delivery on all products and a full lifetime guarantee on all purchases. If you have any queries about our products or their safe use please contact us today, our friendly expert staff will be pleased to help.
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