Professional Builder’s Kieran Nee talks to the rising star behind ladder safety innovation, the Retrasafe stabiliser.
The construction industry has come on in leaps and bounds when it comes to safety practices over the past 30 years. The image of builders kitted out in high vis vests, hard hats and steel toe cap boots is such a common one that it beggars belief that for a lot of sites, these are relatively new introductions. Depending on the site, of course, builders can sometimes barely make a cup of tea without first having to fill out a risk assessment form and erecting several barriers to protect passers-by from the steam. While many complain, rightly or wrongly, that health and safety has gone too far in the industry, you will hear few disagreeing with the need for caution when it comes to ladders. Unfortunately, little of practical use has been achieved in the way of improving ladder safety and injuries from falls remain stubbornly high.
It was the desire to make something that would be easy to use, combined with a refusal to compromise on safety, that led Yorkshire-based Mubashir Akhtar to create the Retrasafe Ladder Stabiliser. The stabiliser consists of two ‘legs’ attached close to the bottom of the ladder, which lie side by side with ladder when in storage, and swing out at an angle when needed.
“I worked out that if ladders had stabilisers on them, that stayed with the ladder and didn’t have to be removed, life would be a lot easier. If you could just pull them down when you need them and fold them up in storage, they would get used a lot more than normal stabilisers, and that can only be a good thing,” so explains Mubashir about the thought process behind the stabilisers; and he should know, having worked on ladders every day for the past 11 years as a satellite and aerial installer, working on as many as eight domestic properties in a day. “I thought up the idea, then I kept it in mind for a few years. To be honest, I thought, surely someone has already thought of this and I just haven’t come across it.”
For Mubashir, practicality was a key consideration in the design of the stabiliser: “The most important thing, I felt, was that my stabilisers had to be safe, easy to use and they had to remain with the ladder when you transported it. I can’t tell you how much time I could have saved throughout my career if I had had Retrasafe ladder stabilisers. Imagine, you go from house to house, bringing your ladder from the car, which sometimes is parked on a different street, then you fetch your stabilisers, set them up, do the job and then have to do the whole thing in reverse!”
Once Mubashir was sure there was nothing similar on the market, and had conducted a patent search to be certain he wasn’t going to infringe on anyone else’s idea, it was time to start production. “We make the stabilisers out of cast aluminium,” the budding inventor explains, “because it doesn’t rust, and it’s lightweight. You’re carrying it around with the ladder, so it has to be lightweight.” And it seems the product was off to an auspicious start, as early tests provided encouraging results: “We got it independently tested by the University of Leeds’ Civil Engineering Department. They used a hydraulic press to apply 2.4 tonnes of pressure on the stabilisers deployed on a ladder. We had to stop the test at that moment because the ladder itself broke and started bending. The stabilisers themselves lasted longer than even the ladder! You can see the video on our YouTube channel.”
However, Mubashir is quick to point out that using these stabilisers isn’t an infallible panacea: “If you’re working for long periods of time you shouldn’t use a ladder at all, you should organise for a more permanent structure to be erected. Likewise, just because you have the stabilisers attached, it doesn’t mean you can act irresponsibly on the ladder or lean too far over like you do, unfortunately, see people do quite often. The rule of thumb is that your belt buckle should never go outside the stiles of the ladder. Maybe they should change that to your belly button actually, because I definitely know some people would simply stop wearing a belt to get around that one!”