The Law - Get your rungs right

In a recent audit of a school's health and safety, a caretaker told me that simple but essential maintenance tasks could not be done because the law bans the use of stepladders.

Not true. The Health and Safety Executive insists neither stepladders nor ladders are banned. For short-duration work, ladders can be a good option, although no one should be wobbling around on them doing complex manoeuvres. Too many workers were being injured or killed, so common-sense rules had to be brought in.

The Working at Heights Regulations 2005 put a duty on schools and colleges to ensure work at height is safe and that reasonable features to prevent a fall are in place. Duty-holders must ensure work at height is properly organised, takes account of weather, is properly monitored and inspected, and that those involved are properly trained.

Where possible, work at height should be avoided, but where this is not feasible the school must assess the risk, provide suitable equipment, and use measures to prevent a fall or minimise the consequences. When selecting equipment, schools must use kit that is the most suitable, give priority to collective protection measures over personal protection and take account of risks to anyone where work is being carried out.

Detailed requirements for equipment and temporary structures are contained in schedules 2-6 of the regulations.

Chris Lowe, Former headteacher and legal consultant and chief editor of Quick Guide Publishing.

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