Fall protection solutions provider Safemaster Height Safety Solutions believes that Draft AS1657, which may soon become a verified Standard fails to address the dangers of caged ladders.

Caged ladders have always been considered as the preferred way of access to plant on roofs and high places for maintenance, as it avoids the need to train personnel accessing such areas. This could never be considered a serious approach to duty of care for personnel in these circumstances.

This new Draft version is redundant unless references to ‘caged ladders’ are removed altogether. According to Safemaster, caged ladders merely offer a false sense of security, and have never provided a safe means of access when the ladder exceeds 6m. Caged ladders don't provide adequate safety when egressing or climbing.

Caged ladders also require costly change of direction platforms, which are extremely obtrusive. The vertical lifeline ladder system should be the only system used on ladders and when they exceed three metres, to provide safe egress between levels. All rung ladders whether at 70 degrees or vertical, should always have a lifeline or life rail when they exceed three metres.

Vertical lifeline ladder systems are designed to prevent a free fall greater than 600mm, providing the ultimate form of access to high places or between levels.

Caged ladders are staggered for extra protection in the current standard, which clearly shows the committee is aware it is possible to fall. Safemaster therefore believes they should be totally banned, and ruled unacceptable. All caged ladders currently in use should be upgraded with a lifeline.

The Draft suggests side-mounted ‘midway’ landing platforms are no longer acceptable. This, Safemaster believes should be reviewed, and made clear that they are only acceptable when a lifeline is fitted to the ladder.

Vertical lifeline ladder systems generally prevent the need for rescue and serious injury. In contrast where a caged ladder is used no personnel should be left to work alone. Supervisors in the facilities or maintenance environment on operational buildings (such as air-conditioning mechanics and roofing plumbers) have always considered caged ladders safe. They should not consider them to be safe or allow their workers to work alone, as relying on self-rescue is not permitted under the newly released COP for Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces.

Any company in the height safety field recommending caged ladders and walkways with handrails as a complete package, and implying it reduces the cost of administration, induction, supervision and recertification is providing misleading advice. Egress from a caged ladder or a portable ladder to a roof or platform cannot be done safely without some form of restraint.

There is always a risk of falling at the top of a caged ladder, as one is standing with a fall zone (opening) greater than allowed by legislation. Likewise, the Draft clarifies that an open hatch is a fall hazard, therefore prescribing perimeter protection to hatches. It also deals with the ergonomic and safety issues for access and egress.

Be Safety Wise

Aside from meeting mandatory safety obligations, it is good business to install higher level controls such as guardrails and walkways wherever possible rather than relying on fall prevention and fall arrest systems. Simple, low maintenance systems such as guardrails are less costly over their lifetime, and should be chosen over systems that merely provide a false sense of security.