With changes on the horizon for European ladder standards, Paul Bruton, WernerCo’s Product Development Director, assesses the shortcomings of current Standards and the impact that the introduction of new regulations, will have on the industry.
Ladders and access equipment are regulated by different standards and, due to the specific use and load bearing weight of the ladder, they are typically broken down by material and product types.
Historically, there were three simple product classes for ladders under British Standard BS2037. Class 1 was used to identify the toughest category of ladders intended for heavy-duty and industrial use, with a maximum static vertical load of 175kg.
Class 2, the most common ladder certification in the UK, categorised ladders for trade and light industrial use with a maximum static vertical load of 150kg; and Class 3 was used to identify ladders designed for domestic use only.
In order to conform to wider European Standards, EN131 was introduced to the UK. Replacing BS 2037 Class 2, EN131 has two classifications of use, professional and non-professional use.
Despite these initial improvements to Standards, many within the ladder industry and the European Commission itself remain dissatisfied with EN131. As a result there is currently an EC Mandate for further improvements and additional requirements for stability, slip, durability and strength in position of use.
These additional considerations will bring about major changes to the design of ladders – all extension and combination ladders over 3m will be required to have a stabiliser bar and new test protocols, for instance.
However, although this revised Standard was due to come into effect in November 2016, through CEN, the member states have agreed to have it suspended until 2017, when part two of EN131 should be implemented. This makes much more sense as both parts of the Standard are intrinsically linked and should therefore follow the same timing plan.
There are also huge gaps in ladder standards with some product categories omitted entirely. Roof ladders for example are one category without an applicable categorisation.
Thankfully, this is now set to change following an agreement by the British Standards Institution (BSI) that will bring about the development of an industry standard.
The recent growth in the house building market (up by 23 per cent from November 2014-November 2015), coupled with the continued strength in the roofing sector, means that that introduction of roof ladder standards will be a timely one for the construction industry.
This should ensure that roofing professionals are equipped with a product that best suits the demands of the job. In addition, the introduction of safer ladders will go a long way to help reverse the worrying statistics surrounding work at height fatalities.
Current HSE guidelines on roof ladders state that they must be designed for the purpose, of good construction, properly supported, and, if used on a sloping roof, they must be securely fixed by means of a ridge hook placed over the ridge bearing on the opposite roof.
It also states that ladders should be used in addition to eaves-level edge protection and gutters should not be used to support any ladder.
Work at Height regulations state that special measures must be taken (the use of an access platform or scaffolding) where it is not possible to maintain a constant handhold on a ladder; a stipulation that has led to an increase in the use of personal fall protection equipment (PPE) when using roof ladders.
The addition of extra support for workers highlights the concerns with current roof ladder guidance and, as such, the new BSI guidance, when introduced, will seek to raise the standards and the design of roof ladders to help ensure falls from height are minimised.
Work on a new roofing ladder standard has already begun in earnest, and it is hoped that a wider European Standard will be developed once the BSI comes into force.
Once implemented, the new standard will impact the whole industry, from ladder manufacturers including WernerCo, to health and safety professionals, product testing organisations, training bodies, trading standards officers and health and safety regulators.
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