Choosing the correct ladder for any given job can often be a bit of a minefield as there are so many different pieces of equipment for various working-at-height tasks. Hopefully this guide can be of some help should you need any pointers when selecting the correct solution.
Choosing the correct material.
The two materials that ladders and access equipment tend to come in is aluminium or fiberglass, as you can see here. Aluminium ladders tend to be slightly lighter than the fiberglass ones. It can be a misconception that the aluminium ones are sturdier than the fiberglass ones as they are both tested to the same standards for durability and weight loading. The reason fiberglass ones were introduced was that they are non-conductive, usually to 30,000 volts, which obviously makes them ideal for any work that is being carried out around electricity. If you are purchasing a ladder for standard work, or DIY, then an aluminium one will suffice.
It is important to make sure you choose an item that is certified to the correct classification for the job. This has become a bit of a grey area since the new standards for ladders came into play this year. Ladders used to be organised into three classifications (Class 1 – Industrial, Class 2- Trade and Class 3 – Domestic)
This has now been changed and has been somewhat simplified into two classifications EN121 Non-Professional, and EN131 Professional. If a ladder is being used to carry out work in a professional environment, then it is essential to have the EN131 Professional classified equipment, anything that is sold as EN131 professional should be clearly marked as such on any labels on the equipment. The EN131 Non-Professional, as the name suggests, is suitable for anything that is for infrequent home use and DIY etc.
It is important to make sure you are working with the correct equipment and classification, not only as it is the safest and best practice for yourself or your employees, but failure to do so can lead to problems with the HSE.
Duration of Task
Ladders are a practical solution for low risk and short duration tasks. It is recommended not to be on a ladder for a job that takes more than 30 minutes. If you are working on a job that you think will take longer than this, there may be more appropriate solutions, such as a ‘hop-up’ low level platform, or something like a podium step. These would be more suitable as they have a sturdy, larger platform to work off rather than the rungs of a ladder.
Depending on the kind of job you are doing, different types of ladders will be most suited. If it is higher work, such as working at gutter height or fascias, an extension ladder would suit best. These generally come in a two section or three section model, the three section ladders close down to a smaller size so they can be easily transported or stored.
If you are working lower than gutter height, for example decorating, home renovations or simply changing a lightbulb a step ladder would suffice and would be the best solution for the job. Step ladders come in two varieties, swingback and platform, as the name suggests a platform stepladder has a platform at the top for more comfortable standing, swingback stepladders have a top tread, which is not for standing on! You should actually never stand on the top three steps of a swingback stepladder.
If you have a wide range of tasks in hand a combination ladder is ideal. Combination ladders can easily be turned into step ladders, extension ladders and stairway ladders very easily, giving you a range of available heights to work from, our personal favourites are the Little Giant Combination ladders or the ZargesSkymasters.
As mentioned above if you are working at height for longer than 30 minutes at a time you should take a look at a podium steps, hop ups and towers, as well as permanent solutions over portable.
Don’t forget to carry out a risk assessment for your work, once you hit heights over the average gutter height ladders may not be the perfect solution.
Hopefully throughout this simple guide you received the information you were looking for and are now on your way to becoming a ladder expert! Whichever product you go for in the end, ensure you are working safely and taking no unnecessary risks.