You are on a ladder on stairs; one of the ladder’s stiles is in the air. The ladder is not stable

ZARGES tip: Risk assessment

of ladders, step stools and scaffolding

Proper risk assessment of ladders and step stools.

In an operational risk assessment of ladders and step stools in accordance with Sections 5 and 6 of the German Occupational Safety and Health Act in conjunction with Section 3 of the Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health, risk should be minimised by choosing and providing the most appropriate access equipment and aids, and by using them properly.

In addition, the Technical Rules for Workplace Safety (TRBS) should be taken into account to make the assessment as transparent and comprehensive as possible.

The Technical Rules for Industrial Safety (TRBS) 2121, Part 2

The Technical Rules for Workplace Safety (German: Technische Regel für Betriebssicherheit – TRBS) describes rules concerning the operation, provision and use of facilities that require monitoring. The document takes account of the current state of technology, occupational medicine & hygiene, and knowledge from the field of ergonomics.

The Committee for Occupational Safety (ABS) establishes these rules; the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs publishes them in the Joint Ministerial Gazette.

The main objective of the technical rules is to concretise the Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health with regards to the investigation and assessment of risks as well as the use of their results to devise appropriate measures. By using the measures provided as examples, an employer can prove that it has complied with the regulations set out in the Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health. If an employer chooses another solution, it is required to provide written proof that it has equally complied with the ordinance. An overview of the topics covered in the TRBS:

  • Area of application
  • Definitions
  • Risk assessment
  • Measures
  • Provision
  • Use
  • General
  • Using a ladder to access elevated work sites where work is carried out occasionally
  • Using a ladder as an elevated work site
  • Observance of safe-use practices during operations
  • Inspection

Besides the TRBS 2121 Part 2 (Risk of Falling from Height – Provision and Use of Ladders), DGUV Information 208-016 (formerly BGI 694) also needs to be applied.

FAQs on risk assessment

What aspects are required in the risk assessment?

Generally, you should at least consider the following aspects in your risk assessment:
Do you have enough ladders and step stools? Are they appropriate for their purposes?

  • Workers have to be provided with ladders and step stools of the required type and size and in the necessary quantity.
  • The appropriate ladder length, height of the first tread, type, material, stability and accessories have to be chosen according to the application (workplace or traffic route).
  • The quantity depends on the spatial situation at the work site: Access equipment should not be kept in a location far away from its place of use, such that it first has to be retrieved before use (foreseeable risk that personnel would rather use inappropriate access devices).
  • Prohibit and prevent the use of inappropriate access devices using suitable measures.

How do I ensure that a ladder is appropriate for the intended task?

  • Before assigning a task, make sure that the access device (ladder or step) and accessories in question are appropriate for the task to be performed.
  • Ladders may only be used when:
    • personnel can stand securely while climbing the ladder
    • personnel can always stand stably while working on the ladder
  • If the requirements cannot be fulfilled, you may have to consider using scaffold towers, aerial work platforms or other work platforms for this task.

Are ladders and step stools used as intended and with the required safety measures?

In order to minimise risks as much as possible, the following must be considered:

  • Use ladders and step stools only for purposes that are appropriate for their design, variant and size.
  • Always set up ladders and step stools in a secure position
  • When necessary, use securing measures to prevent ladders falling over
  • Ladders used on roads or at roadsides must be clearly indicated and signed to prevent people accidentally knocking them over
  • Provide annual training on the proper use of the equipment

Are usage and application explained by appropriate instructions for use or pictograms on the ladder?

  • Users must be able to understand how to use a portable ladder properly by looking at the instructions (in the form of pictographs) affixed on the ladder.
  • If such instructions are not available, they are to be obtained (e.g. from the ladder's manufacturer) and permanently affixed to the ladder at a prominent location.

Is it ensured that ladders and steps are adequately checked?

A few laws, regulations & standards deal with the inspection and proper provision of access equipment, e.g. Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health [BetrSichV], and DGUV Information 208-016 (formerly BGI 694) Instructions on the proper handling of ladders and step stools.

A person must be tasked with the regular inspection of ladders and step stools to ensure that they are in proper condition (visual and functional inspection). Here are a few things to take note:

  • specify inspection intervals according to use conditions
  • enter the results in a ladder inspection log (a collection of checklists)
  • before using ladders and step stools brought in by external contractors, carefully inspect them for their appropriateness and condition

Systematic inspection of ladders and step stools can be performed with the help of a checklist (see DGUV Information 208-016), for example. You should also take note of the manufacturer's information regarding inspection.

What should I do with defective ladders that can no longer be used?

Make sure that

  • defective ladders and step stools are not used (instruction)
  • remove defective ladders from use, and store them in such a way that makes it impossible for them to be used until they are properly repaired or scrapped (measures include storing them separately, chaining them together, and adding prominent markings or labels).

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