Tips for the correct use of folding stairs according to the INSST

Ladders are practical and easy to use, so most users often overlook safety measures. This can seriously injure people in the home, so it’s worth reviewing the basic tips for avoiding accidents.

The National Institute for Safety and Health at Work of the Government of Spain (INSST) has been compiling since 1982 a collection of Technical Prevention Notes (NTP) which has resulted in a manual that brings together the most important information to prevent accidents work, however, it can be used by private users, since some tools for work use are also used in homes and the dangers are very similar.

This is the case of NTP 239, which is dedicated to the dangers and recommendations for the use of manual ladders, describing the types, characteristics and uses of portable ladders. Here is a summary of the most important considerations when using these tools.

Possible accidents when using a folding ladder

Even if you have the best folding ladder of the moment, there is always the danger of falling from a certain height, this can happen in several ways. One of the most common causes has to do with lateral slippage, either due to a precarious support of the legs of the ladder, a bad movement of the user or due to a strong wind. In this sense, as a general rule, a person suffering from vertigo should not use a portable ladder, since it could make it swing and fall, in addition, it is necessary to check that the footings are compatible with the type of floor to guarantee stability. If the atmospheric conditions are unfavorable, it is best to leave the work for another time.

Another reason why falls occur is the breakage of parts of the ladder, such as steps or legs, therefore, it is necessary to carefully check the ladder if it has been stored for a long time, especially in the case of those that are made of wood, since this material can lose solidity due to humidity, fungi and xylophagous insects. In this sense, it is good to check that the chain or rope that joins the two planes is in optimal condition.

Poor placement of the ladder can cause imbalance, for example, when the user is far from the point of repair when he is at the top and must lean his body to one side of the ladder, taking all his weight to one side. Also, it is necessary to mention the possibility of slipping from a step when ascending or descending, in general, this can be avoided if proper footwear is used. If the ladder is dirty with oil, paint and other substances, it is essential to clean it before doing the work.

Some sudden gestures of the user can cause accidental falls, this can occur due to a puncture with a sharp object, due to an electric shock, among other reasons. So that this does not happen, it is necessary to have special gloves depending on the work to be carried out. It is worth mentioning that folding ladders are made to go up and down facing the rungs, as this allows for balance and the use of hands for stability. Its use with your back to the steps is the cause of falls.

On the other hand, there are risks of entrapment, since the folding ladder has two sides that are usually joined by screws, nuts and other elements that can fail with constant use. In this case, part of the body, such as the hands, arms, feet and legs, can be trapped, causing considerable injuries.

The dangers of folding ladders are not only associated with the user himself, since being at a high level, there is a possibility that an object may fall on other people who circumstantially pass under the ladder. For this reason, it is necessary to notify people of the repairs and in some cases to isolate the space to prevent traffic around the stairway. 

Recommendations for the use and maintenance of folding ladders

The INSST warns that improper transportation of the manual ladder can cause damage to the tool itself, causing accidents when using it. This is why it must be deposited with due care when storing it, since strong blows can throw its mechanisms out of adjustment. Likewise, the ladder should not be used to transport materials, since it is not made for that purpose and this can weaken its structure.

When moving it, it is important that it is correctly folded and should not be carried in a horizontal position, as this can cause tripping over other people who are walking in the opposite direction. In this case, it is recommended that the front part is always down during the ride. It is of great importance to take into account that if the ladder weighs more than 25 kg, it is necessary to transport it between two people to avoid injuries.

If the transport is going to be carried out by car, the ladder must not protrude on the sides, nor must it exceed 2 m at the front of the vehicle. In addition, article 59 of the Spanish Traffic Code establishes that at night the ladder must have a reflective device or red light if it protrudes from the rear of the car, and during the day it must be covered with a brightly colored piece of cloth.

The maximum opening angle for a folding ladder is 30°, always with the opening limiter, which can be a rope or chain, since the excess distance between the two sides of the ladder causes instability and therefore accidents. As for the shoes, the rubber or neoprene ones are safe on concrete floors, while the abrasive ones work well on dry floors.

The total load of a wooden ladder should not exceed 95 kg, while metal ladders support up to 150 kg. However, in no case is it safe for the ladder to be used by more than one person at the same time.

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