According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), each year approximately 622,000 work-related accidents are reported each year. A large proportion of these unfortunately involve ladders. The European Committee for Standardisation therefore recently published the standards EN 131-1 and 2. The guidelines describe new design and test requirements. As of January 2018, ladders used in commercial operations must fulfil all criteria for structural stability and load capacity.
As these new regulations and guidelines are released, companies must understand how the changes will affect them. In the context of the standards EN 131-1 and 2, this can be summarised as follows: the new standard will include a “Professional” category that will replace BS 2037 Class 1, the current standard for industrial and heavy-duty ladders. In addition all leaning ladders that are three metres or longer will have to be equipped with a base stabiliser to ensure stability. Along with stricter test requirements in terms of stile strength and slip-resistance, EN 131-2 also sets out additional regulations for mechanical durability tests and torsion tests. Other guidelines concern the use of combination ladders as well as the categorisation of access systems. The new regulations will take effect as of 1 January 2018 in the UK and throughout Europe and will affect companies of all industries and sizes.
What is going happen in 2018?
The new regulations are intended to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities in the workplace. However, EN 131 does not expressly prohibit the continued use of ladders that are already in use. Commercial users in the UK and Europe, such as companies, skilled workers or public authorities, are merely asked to adhere to the respective workplace regulations. "Companies are currently in somewhat of a grey area. On the one hand, even though EN 131-1 and 2 have already been adopted, ladders made according to the old standard are still allowed to be sold in the UK until October 2020 at the latest, according to BSI Assurance" explains Rainer Üblacker, Head of R&D at ZARGES. "Companies that now invest in new ladders would effectively have to retrofit their existing ladders or buy new ones in the near future. On the other hand, the guidelines are not clearly defined. This creates uncertainty."
This uncertainty can be really confusing for companies and so ZARGES amongst others are calling for transparency. As it stands, ladders that are state-of-the-art can continue to be used in the future. In order to identify these models and consequently create financial security, companies should ask their safety officer to perform a risk assessment as soon as possible. All systems should be tested for weak points as part of the mandatory annual ladder inspection and regularly modified as necessary.
Top tips on the right approach to ladders according to EN 131-1 and 2
Regularly inspect ladders: it is recommended that ladders that are subject to frequent use should be inspected at least once every three months
Take note of the inspector's qualification: An inspection is considered legally compliant only when it is performed by a certified in-house safety officer or a trained employee of a specialist company
Perform retrofitting: Access systems can be retrofitted to comply with regulations. For example, a base stabiliser can be added to a leaning ladder in accordance with EN 131-1
Safety first: In addition to annual inspections, companies should always keep an eye on the safety of their ladders and access systems