Hooped ladders and the use of personal fall-arrest systems

A safety notice published by the Health and Safety Executive to alert dutyholders to the key findings of newly published HSE research with regards to hooped ladders.

The purpose of this safety notice is to remind dutyholders of the need to fully assess the risks from work at height activities, and to provide context and explanation for research being published to the HSE website today.

Research Report 657, titled an 'Investigation into the fall-arresting effectiveness of ladder safety hoops, when used in conjunction with various fall-arrest systems' is published on the HSE website

The report contains useful information for industry, stakeholders and dutyholders, and HSE is taking action on many of the report findings. It is, however, important to note that claims and conclusions presented in the report are not representative of HSE policy.

The report follows on from an earlier report which looked at the fall-arrest effectiveness of ladder safety hoops (and is available online: RR258 - Preliminary investigation into the fall-arresting effectiveness of ladder safety hoops). The two reports conclude that;

There is no evidence that hoops (also known as cages) on ladders provide any positive fall arrest capability.

The mode of a how a person falls and their interaction with the ladder hoops in many cases interfered detrimentally with the operation of personal fall-arrest systems installed in them.

The results showed that in most cases there was a risk of serious injury. (The fall-arrest systems tested represented a good sample - all conforming to the relevant standards. The ladder also conformed to the relevant standard).

The new BS 4211:2005 +A1:2008, published since the second report was first commissioned, specifies that hooped ladders should have 5 rather than 3 vertical slats.

The report's author could find no paper to justify the reason for this and believes that BS 4211 gives a false impression that caged ladders confer superior protection to that of personal fall-arrest systems.

The EN standards for certain types of fall-arrest equipment, which could be used with bare ladders or hooped ladders, do not address foreseeable modes of fall (e.g. backwards falls) and interaction with the ladder and hoops.

Action required:

Personal fall-arrest equipment can be used inside a hooped ladder to arrest a fall. However users should be aware of the possible limitations of such equipment and the nature of the risks it may present and should make appropriate provision as part of their risk assessment.

In undertaking the risk assessment dutyholders may need to consult manufacturers or suppliers on the performance of their equipment when used in hooped ladders. Dutyholders should also consider their rescue plan and the use of climbing helmets to reduce the risk of injury from striking the hoops.

HSE is not seeking to prohibit hooped ladders, to recommend the blanket removal of hoops from ladders (which would probably increase overall risk), or to prohibit the use of personal fall-arrest systems within hooped ladders. While the report concludes that hoops alone do not provide positive fall arrest capability, they may provide other safety benefits that the report does not explore.

Dutyholders should carry out risk assessments to see whether work at height can be avoided or if the provision of a safer means of access is reasonably practicable. Risk assessments should take into account this latest guidance.

If an existing EN 353-1:2002 guided type fall arrest system on a rigid line is present on a hooped ladder, dutyholders should consult the manufacturer or supplier regarding its effectiveness to safely arrest a fall, in respect of safety warnings in 2004 and 2007. See Safety warning: BS EN 353-1 2002 Part 1 Fall Arrest Equipment and Safety warning: HACA fixed rail vertical fall arrest system type 0529.7102.

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