OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
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Part 8 Entrances, Walkways, Stairways and Ladders

Section 137 Fall protection

Under normal circumstances, workers are required to use some type of fall protection system e.g. guardrails, nets, personal fall arrest system, etc., whenever they can fall a distance of 3 m or more. This section permits a worker to move up or down a portable ladder without having to use a personal fall arrest system.

This section also permits a worker to work from a ladder without using a personal fall arrest system in circumstances where it is not reasonably practicable to do so. The most common example of such a situation is when an anchor of sufficient strength is unavailable or too impracticable to use. This easement of the fall protection requirements is subject to several conditions:

(1) the work must be a “light duty task”, such as inspection or painting. The work done at each spot where the ladder is set up must be less than approximately 15 minutes in length;
(2) while doing the task, the worker must keep his or her centre of gravity (indicated by the belly button) between the side rails of the ladder; and
(3) the worker must maintain three points of contact whenever the worker extends an arm beyond a side rail.

If any one of these three conditions cannot be met, some form of fall arrest protection is required.

The maximum length of a three-section extension ladder is 22 metres (72 feet). Because ladder sections must overlap by at least 1.5 metres (5 feet), the overall maximum extended length of the longest extension ladder is 19 metres (63 feet). Inclined at the recommended 75° angle (“4 up – 1 out”), with 1 m of the ladder extending above the upper landing area and assuming the worker to be 2 metres tall, the worker’s maximum height above ground would be approximately 15.5 metres (51 feet).

Being 15.5 metres above the ground is a considerable height. An extension ladder extended to its full-length bows and tends to be less stable than when it is only partially extended. It tends to vibrate and shake in strong winds and while a person ascends or descends it. Whenever an extension ladder must be extended to near its full limits, questions should be asked as to whether a ladder is the best choice for doing the work. Alternate approaches, such as the use of a manlift, boatswain’s chair, or scaffolding may be safer and more efficient ways of doing the work.