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'Stupid and absurd', experts debate new draft height safety standard

By: John A Redding
29 May, 2013

Between 2003 and 2010, there were 204 reported workplace deaths as a result of falls, yet height safety experts are divided on the adequacy of the new draft Standard, with some labelling elements of the Standard as 'stupid' and 'absurd'.

While not expected to be fully released until later this year, the draft Australian Standard AS1657 – fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders has already been criticised for failing to address fully the dangers of caged ladders and egressing from such ladders.

Andrew Pridham, Technical Manager with Safemaster, a leading provider of engineered safety systems for people working at heights, says the new draft is already out of date unless the committee removes caged ladders altogether from the Standard.

"Caged ladders merely provide a false sense of security, and have never provided a safe means of access when the ladder exceeds six metres," Pridham said.

"If the committee had looked at cage ladders seriously, it would be very evident they don't provide adequate safety when egressing nor when climbing.

Pridham says caged ladders have always been considered the preferred way of access to plant on roofs and high places for maintenance.

"However, this is simply to prevent the need of training personnel accessing such areas. Caged ladders should never be considered a serious approach to duty of care for personnel in these circumstances," he said.

"Plus caged ladders require costly change of direction platforms, which are extremely obtrusive. 

Pridham believes the vertical lifeline ladder system should be the only system used on ladders when they exceed three metres; to provide safe egress between levels.

"All rung ladders whether at 70 degrees or vertical, should always have a lifeline or liferail when they exceed three metres," he said.

"Vertical lifeline ladder systems are designed to prevent a free fall greater than 600mm, therefore providing the ultimate form of access to high places or between levels."

Pridham says caged ladders are staggered for extra protection in the current standard, which clearly shows the committee is aware it is possible to fall, therefore they should be totally banned, and ruled not acceptable.

"All caged ladders currently in use should be upgraded with a lifeline," he said.

Landing Platforms

Pridham points out that the draft Standard suggests side-mounted "midway" landing platforms are no longer acceptable.

"This is simply stupid and should be reviewed," he said. 

"It should be made clear that side-mounted 'midway' landing platforms are acceptable when a lifeline is fitted to the ladder, as any ladder over six metres must have a rest platform and a lifeline or liferail system.

"Fall protection systems on ladders are currently recognised where it isn’t practical to have staggered ladders and a change of direction landing platform. 

"It is particularly common when ladders need to be installed for significant heights on wind turbines, telecommunication towers and in very deep confined pits, for example.

"This can make a difference between six metres and 20 to 30 metres, and yet a fall from six metres may create permanent injury or death.

"This decision is absurd as the risk in these circumstances can be greatly reduced by vertical lifelines."

Pridham says it should always be the responsibility of a supervisor in every circumstance, whether for construction or maintenance, to control the access and ensure the user has adequate competencies.

"The vertical lifeline ladder systems generally prevent the need for rescue, and serious injury. Although a rescue plan is required, it is unlikely it would be utilised," Pridham said.

"In contrast where a caged ladder is used, personnel should not be left to work alone.

"Unfortunately, supervisors in the facilities or maintenance environment on operational buildings (such as air-conditioning mechanics and roofing plumbers) have always considered caged ladders safe.

"When in fact, they should not consider them to be safe or allow personnel to work alone, as relying on self-rescue is not permitted under the newly released Code of Practice for Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces."

Pridham says any company in the height safety field recommending caged ladders and walkways with handrails as a complete package, and implying it reduces the cost of administration, induction, supervision and recertification, is providing a misleading statement.

"For example, egress from a caged ladder or from a portable ladder to a roof or platform, cannot be done safely without some form of restraint," he said.
"These situations are clearly highlighted in the codes for egress from an EWP (Elevating Work Platform) as there is always a risk of falling at the top of a caged ladder, as the user is standing with a fall zone (opening) greater than legislation allows."

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Hayrick | Tuesday, June 4, 2013, 12:03 PM
Sounds to me that Pridham and ilk are part of the usual self serving vested interest lobby. The photo showing a climber on a high vertical pole says it all - no one in their right mind would attempt such a climb without gear. This is not the case with access to roofs where caged ladders are a needed security provision because no one can prevent the public from accessing such areas - and the public do not carry around climbing gear and would not be able to use it correctly if they did.
Douglas | Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 10:29 AM
To clarify public access, anyone can prevent public access to areas that require personnel to be trained in access of such areas. That is clearly a duty of care, as access to roofs with out competencies in height safety must never be condoned. Access to roofs where a caged ladder is used, doesn’t provide the necessary protection, yet clearly condones uneducated and untrained personnel to access such areas, leaving a huge responsibility on the controller of the premises. Any personnel or contractors accessing such areas should always be able to satisfy the controller, they have the adequate competencies to carry out the works at height, and have the necessary equipment to do so. This issue is not about a invested interest in products, but an invested interest in the many lives that risk injury or death each day, carrying out work without the necessary equipment and competencies.
Chas | Thursday, June 6, 2013, 1:22 PM
Getting off a ladder onto a roof does not present as many problems as getting back on to the ladder from a roof. This area is the one where the nay sayers lose me!
Chris | Thursday, June 6, 2013, 2:29 PM
I have done an internet search but can't find any statistics on the number and/or severity of falls within and from caged ladders. Surely these statistics, if they can be produced, with give us the definitive and evidence-based answer to this issue.
Hayrick | Friday, June 7, 2013, 1:27 AM
Still don't see how you can keep the public off roofs. In any case If there is any kind of emergency someone will find a ladder or a rope. If reasonable access is denied or otherwise prevented people get creative. Where does the higher duty of care lie. Can we stop people from climbing trees? In case where officially sanctioned work is carried out of course provide clip on gear.
David Driessens | Friday, June 7, 2013, 9:54 AM
The safer you attempt to make things, the less care that is taken by the user. Lets all reduce our hot water temp to 40 degrees to stop burns, dont worry about those dying from legionnaires so long as our children dont have to be educated about what is hot. I am a steel detailer and know 1657 inside out, there are already deficiencies without introducing more. How about we cut all limbs off trees that grow below 1200mm. Lets promote education and resposibility not this nanny state crap, too many experts and not enough common sense.
Phil | Friday, June 7, 2013, 11:23 AM
Hayrick, providing a gate on a ladder will stop the sensible thinking public from accessing the roof. No it won't stop the moron, but a moron doesn't need a ladder to access a roof he is intent on getting on, he will find whatever means he can, therefore, a ladder with a lifeline and a gate is the safest way to for a tradesman to access a roof and the safest way to keep the general public out.
Robin Mark | Friday, June 7, 2013, 1:51 PM
Hi Chris, here ya go mate: 3,486 injury incidents due to a fall from a ladder resulted in admission to hospital in the year to 30 June 2005 Study was taken by flinders university.
Chris | Friday, June 7, 2013, 2:56 PM
Hi Robin. Thanks for that, but the problem is that "falls from ladders" includes all ladders. Is there any information on how many falls are from fixed ladders with a cage? Has there been any studies or statistical analysis comparing falls from fixed ladders with and without cages (for given heights and by consequence)? Have these incidents been compared with incidents where vertical lifeline systems have been installed? Safety standards should be based, where possible, on the evidence. The data is there in the state workers compensation statistics. Do the various authorities producing the codes undertake this kind of analysis and make the results available? Legislation (including codes of practice) should be based on evidence, not negotiated best guesses.
Hayrick | Friday, June 7, 2013, 3:04 PM
Phil, don't call me a moron. Robin say's 3,486 people fall off ladders. They need help not bans and hurdles. Next thing I will be told is getting in my car is a hazard. It's obvious I need protection before I die. Unfortunately the natural conclusion from being born in the first place is death - damn!!.
Douglas | Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 11:22 AM
Any person that has any idea of duty of care would understand that prevention is better than a cure. All ladders create some form of risk,but what I believe the writer is trying to get across is; - ladders with lifelines are the only sensible means of protection, as they don't prevent you from slipping, but they do prevent you from falling. -Everyone that climbs a ladder, due to the risks must always be trained. The risks are not only falls, but live wires and other hazards. -Everyone accessing,or egressing at height, must be trained in height safety which includes the use of ladders,EWP's,personel protective equipment. - Caged ladders give a false sense of security, and don't prevent you from slipping of falling. - I don't believe anyone would argue with Chris about the need for readly availble statistics. One thought could be that, very few injuries would form the statistics for falls from ladders with lifelines. - Anyone thinking public are welcome on roofs, must have no understanding of legislation or risks, let alone the risk for a controller if found guilty of his or her lack of duty of care.
Bruce | Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 4:48 PM
Unfortunately in this age of litigation the opportunist does not see a caged ladder as a warning, but as an opportunity to injure himself and then sue somebody for putting it there. This person would not climb a tree as there is nobody to blame but himself if he falls. If there is no ladder there at all then there is no temptation. The authorised person who needs to climb on the roof should provide his own ladder and safety gear, removing same when finished.
Mike Dye | Wednesday, December 18, 2013, 6:50 PM
I am in Bali now. You should see their ladders and climbing systems. But then their culture is not to drink and take drugs. Maybe all the rule makers should look at the real problems?????
Rodney Manning | Thursday, December 19, 2013, 9:12 AM
Very informative
Hayrick | Thursday, December 19, 2013, 12:06 PM
We have just come from an early fire season, before someone else calls the public stupid - would you get on a roof to save your house and family? A low tech solution is required that doesn't involve scrabbling around for impediments such as clips and harnesses. Such gear is fine for Industrial applications and pole climbing. Part of the equation is heightened awareness. Personally I am terrified of roofs but recognise that familiarity breeds contempt and roof workers get blase. I cannot change the reason to have roofs and would fight any flat roof believers or rule making gestapo. Has anyone got those statistics yet on caged ladder falls (and perhaps falls due to ignoring or misusing or failed gear)? Maybe we should ban gutters and design self cleaning roofs. Also non slip footwear that doesn't cause a death slide in the slightest squall and ladder clips that restrict removal or blow away.