According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), approximately 609,000 cases of reportable work-related accidents occur in the UK each year. Thankfully, fatal injuries at work are very rare, but the most common cause is falls from height (28%). These accidents often involve ladders, yet this number could be lower if companies take action to reduce the risks and ensure compliance with the latest safety standards.

To address this problem, the European Committee for Standardisation has published the standards EN 131-1 and 2 with the intention of reducing ladder-related incidents. These standards establish new design and testing requirements to ensure ladders meet stringent criteria for stability and load-bearing capacity. The new regulations will come into force as of January 1st, 2018 in the UK and throughout Europe and will affect companies of all sizes and across a variety of industries.

What do the regulations mean?

In the context of the standards 131-1 and 2, all leaning ladders that are three metres or longer will have to be equipped with a stabiliser bar to ensure stability.

The new standards include a ‘Professional’ category that will replace BS 2037 Class 1, the current standard for industrial and heavy-duty ladders. Along with stricter test requirements in terms of strength and slip-resistance, EN 131-2 also sets out additional regulations for mechanical durability tests and torsion tests.

Will I have to replace existing equipment?

EN 131 does not expressly prohibit the continued use of ladders that are already in use. However, as ladders are ubiquitous within industrial and trade skills, it is essential that they are reviewed regularly to ensure they meet safety standards. Commercial users in the UK and Europe are merely asked to adhere to the respective workplace regulations. Existing ladders do not need to be replaced, but any new ladders that are purchased must be compliant with the new regulation.

It’s possible that ladders built with ‘state-of-the-art’ materials can continue to be used. In order to identify compliant models, and consequently help with financial planning, companies should ask their safety officer to perform a risk assessment as soon as possible. The officer must decide whether existing ladders can continue to be used or should be replaced to comply with the new standard.

Ultimately, EN 131-1+2 are intended to improve safety, so no compromises should be made when people’s lives are at stake. Companies should always prioritise a safer working environment for staff. A small investment now in the latest safety standards may save far greater costs long-term should an accident happen.

To help companies assess their needs in relation to the new EN 131-1 and 2 standard, ZARGES has put together the following tips:

  1. Regularly inspect ladders: it is recommended that ladders are subject to a pre-use check, as well as more detailed inspection at least once every three months.
  2. 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.
  3. Perform retrofitting: Access systems can be retrofitted to comply with regulations. For example, a stabilizer base can be added to a leaning ladder in accordance with EN 131-1.
  4. Safety first: In addition to annual inspections, companies should always keep an eye on the safety of their ladders and access systems. Specialist companies and manufacturers, such as ZARGES, offer relevant advice, instructions and information to ensure ladders are being used safely in the work environment.