Federation of Window Cleaners, Ladder Safety

Safe use of portable ladders and water-fed Pole Systems, Produced for the Federation of Window Cleaners, this is a short clip taken from the main health and safety programme which is available to buy from the federations website:

Although this clip has a clown at the beginning, the message is clear that there should be no clowning around on ladders! The programme was designed to encourage the correct and safe use of ladders for the window cleaning industry and was part of a series of programmes on different safety aspects of window cleaning and ladder safety.



Watch any classic slapstick film and you’ll see that ladders are the source of many of the jokes.

But in reality, falling from a ladder is no laughing matter.

In a typical year in the UK, 14 people die at work as a result of falling from a ladder and nearly 1200 people suffer major injuries. In fact, more than a quarter of all work-related falls involve this particular piece of equipment.

A nasty fall is bad at the best of times, but when it leads to loss of work, loss of earnings or, even, loss of life, it’s essential to get the basic safety procedures right first time.

Things have changed. New technology and 'Work At Height' regulations mean ladders don't always have to be used...increasing your safety at work and reducing your risk of injury.

In this short, informative video, we’ll aim to show you when it’s suitable to use a ladder and how to minimise your risks.

The Work At Height Regulations came in to effect in 2005, placing a duty on businesses to reduce the risks for employees working at height.

The key message of these regulations is that if the job can be done from a more stable platform or without your feet ever leaving the ground, it will always be the safest option. Ladders are best used for low-risk, short duration work. To put it simply, if it’s not essential to work at height…DON’T!

Often, though, a ladder is needed.

Cleaning the high internal windows of a school or shopping centre, accessing windows above other areas or reaching the first floor panes of some domestic properties may require a ladder.

Sometimes the property’s location, the number of windows to be cleaned, the type of window or the nature of dirt to be removed may prevent the use of a water fed pole or a more stable method for working at height.  For example … parking on a city centre red route … or if there are less than 6 windows …or removing impacted soilage such as cement, paint or baked-on bird dirt.

In these cases, a ladder may be the best option, but it's important to always consider the consequences of a fall when making this choice. You’ll need to look at each individual situation before deciding on the most suitable method of access.

Once you’ve carried out a thorough inspection of the site and decided that a ladder is needed for the job, it’s vital to check the equipment itself before even putting a single foot on the ladder.  

Even ladders that are used every day require the once over before putting them to work. Some ladders have inspection tags on them with details of their last check. These can be handy when assessing the condition of the ladder.

Regular checks could save you or your colleagues from a nasty injury.

Make sure that the ladder is in good repair, with no visible signs of defect to the stiles or rungs. Ensure that the rungs are not bent, loose or missing and that there is no splitting, bending or damage to either stile.

Take a quick look at the feet to be certain that they’re not loose or worn away and that they’re clean and able to grip the ground they’ll be resting on.

Next, turn your attention to the site: make sure that the ground beneath your feet is stable and even; check to see if the surface is slippery, especially if it’s been raining; and if the ground is sloping, be sure to have the correct equipment to put this right. Suitable footwear is important to prevent slips on the ground or on the ladder, itself.

Once this preparation has been carried out, it’s time to position the caution signs around the working area and put up the ladder…

Putting up your ladder is best done in stages. Raising it one rung at a time will allow to you to remain in control of the equipment at all times.

Once you're happy with the height, it's time to make it stable.

The key factor in preventing a fall from a ladder is to make it secure. Almost all falls happen because the ladder moves unexpectedly.

There are 2 sure-fire ways of stabilising a ladder; by securing it to the wall and the floor and by positioning it and using it correctly.

When positioning your ladder, it’s vital to pick a location where it won’t be knocked by an opening door or window. Of course, if this is not possible, try to secure the door, have a co-worker stand guard or make the people in the building aware of your presence. Caution signs are also very useful in alerting passers-by to the potential dangers.

In order to get your ladder into position, it's best to 'bump' it up the wall in stages, until the correct location is reached.

The most stable angle for a leaning ladder is 75°, which is about 1ft out for every 4ft up. If you can’t achieve this angle because the ladder is too short, too long or something is in the way…don’t use it!

Take a look up at where the top of the ladder will be resting. Is it solid and secure? Never place the tip on a fragile surface, such as plastic guttering or glass, as it could easily give way.

Also, make sure that the ladder extends to at least 1m above where you’ll be working. You should always have 3 clear rungs at the top. Don’t be tempted to stand on these to gain extra height. These 3 little rungs are vital for the stability of the ladder and for your free hand to hold on.

Next, check around the base of the building's walls. Some should be fitted with ladder tie-in rings … these can be used to secure your ladder.

If this is not possible, a ladder stability device is another great way of minimising the risk of unexpected movement.  A ladder fix microlite is one way of making the ladder much more secure.

And don’t overlook the base of a ladder when thinking about stability either.

Tools such as the Laddermate and ladder mat are essential for uneven, sloping or slippery surfaces. Also, your ladders should already be equipped with sturdy, non-slip feet, so be sure to check them on a regular basis.

When climbing the ladder, remember to go slow, tackling one rung at a time. All small items should be safely secured on your body. 2 hands are needed at all times when climbing up or down a ladder.

Finally, one of the most common causes of ladder movement is over reaching. Stretching just that little but further to clean a tricky
corner is all too easy, but the consequences can be deadly.

To prevent this, remember to keep 3 points of contact with the ladder, being careful to keep your belt buckle inside the stiles when gently leaning.

So, why bother with all of these rules and regulations and lists of do’s and don’ts?

Well, the answer is simple…your safety.

You don’t have to fall from a great height to be badly injured. Broken arms or legs are very common from a ladder fall of less than 2m. A person has even been killed falling backwards from the second rung, hitting their head on the floor.

At the end of the day, ladder safety is all about using your common sense, but when done on a daily basis, it’s easy to become complacent.

So, remember these key points:

If don’t have to work at height…then don’t! Only use a ladder when absolutely necessary.

Check your ladder before you use it. Check the stiles, check the rungs, check the feet.

Look at ground. Is it even, flat and dry? Make sure you have the necessary equipment to combat any of these problems.

And finally, stabilise your ladder by positioning it well, securing it tightly and using it correctly.

If you stick to these 4 easy steps, you’ll be so much safer when using a ladder.

And increased safety means more chance for you to enjoy your work and your life ahead!

For further information about Ladder Safety, …or to join the Federation of Window Cleaners …
please telephone: 0161 432 8754  …
E-mail: info@f-w-c.co.uk … or visit www.f-w-c.co.uk