I have dealt with a large number of personal injury claims arising out of the use of ladders and stepladders at work. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 states that every employer shall ensure that a ladder is used for work at height only if a risk assessment under Section 3 of the Management Regulations has demonstrated that use of more suitable work equipment is not justified because the risk is considered low, the ladder is intended for use for only a short period and because of existing features on the site, it is impractical to use alternative equipment. A ladder should not be used where a more suitable stable working platform is available, for example, a scaffold, a scissor lift or a cherry-picker platform as those alternatives enable a person to work from height on a stable platform that provides sufficient room for the storage and use of tools, materials and work equipment. The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 places a duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 requires employers to ensure that ladders are only used when a risk assessment has been carried out under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 so that they can demonstrate that a more suitable form of work equipment is not justified in the circumstances. When the risk assessment demonstrated that the use of a ladder is justified under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, employers must ensure that all ladders are suitable for the intended purpose and are maintained in a good state of repair. When ladders are used at construction sites, the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 requires every contractor to plan, manage and monitor construction work so that it is carried out without risk to health and safety and the principal contractor must produce a construction phase plan which should be reviewed, updated and revised to ensure that construction work is carried out as far as is reasonably practicable without risk to health or safety. Where a person was working from height on a construction site the phase plan would have to set out the arrangements for safe working practices which would include appropriate work equipment and avoiding the use of using ladders as working platforms where possible. Where it is impossible to avoid the use of ladders, the health and safety executive recommends that only light materials and tools are used, the ladder is only suitable for use for a task that will take no more than thirty minutes at a time and persons using the ladder should use a belt buckle. The ladder’s capacity should be checked so that it is not overloaded, the ladder should be used at an angle of 75 degrees. The person using the ladder should always grip the ladder and face the rungs when climbing or descending and should not work on the top three rungs. The persons using the ladder should place tools in an appropriate tool container and should not work within six metres horizontally or near an overhead powerline and maintain three points of contact, two feet and one hand and the ladder should always be secured to prevent it from slipping ie tying the ladder at the top and where possible, use an effective stability device such as an adjustable ladder stabiliser.
I have obtained compensation for claimants injured when using ladders as a working platform for example, carrying out painting or decorating, replacing electrical installations including lighting, air-conditioning duct work, computer equipment, repairs to roofing and guttering, scaffold access ladders that have not been properly tied and footed, ladders that had been in a damaged condition, including unstable stepladders and cases where claimants have been required to carry tools and equipment up and down ladders.
It is not unusual for the issue of contributory negligence to be raised by the defendant in a ladder accident claim. In some claims, claimants have succeeded in full without any deduction for contributory negligence. A deduction for contributory negligence will apply if a court concluded that the injured claimant was partly responsible for causing the accident ie the claimant did not set the ladder up correctly, failing to tie the top of the ladder, for example not securing the ladder to scaffold poles, failing to set up the ladder at the correct angle, failing to securely foot the ladder, carrying excessive loads up and down the ladder, failing to properly hold onto the ladder or failing to correctly assemble the ladder. In the case of Baker v British Gas Services Limited and J&L Electrics Ltd  EWHC 2302 QB, the claimant fell from a ladder at a building society when he was investigating faulty lighting. In this case the court didn’t make a deduction for contributory negligence. In the case of Casson v Spotmix Ltd and Others  EWCA Civ 1994, the claimant was injured whilst climbing up a ladder when he was attempting to clean machinery. The claimant succeeded at trial but there was a 10% deduction for contributory negligence. In this case the claimant was injured when his left hand came into contact with machinery and the judge felt that he was too close to the machinery when the incident occurred. The decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal which allowed the claim to succeed in full. In this case, although the claimant was using a ladder at the time of the accident, the use of the ladder wasn’t the reason for his injury and in cases where the use of the ladder was the cause of the injury, it is more likely that a deduction will be made for contributory negligence. A deduction is far more likely where the claimant is experienced working with ladders unlike in the case of Baker v British Gas Services Ltd. In Hill v Norside Ltd  CSOH 187, the claimant was experienced at using ladders at work as he worked as a roofer and slater. He was injured when descending a portable ladder from the first level of the scaffold. He fell approximately ten feet and sustained severe injuries. In this case the defendant company was responsible for erecting the scaffold and provided a portable ladder to gain access to the first level of scaffolding. They did not secure the ladder to the scaffolding and gave no instructions as to how it was to be used. The claimant had a significant degree of control over how the work was done. The claimant was not provided with any equipment to tie or clamp the ladder in place and fell whilst descending the ladder. He succeeded in full at trial, but the defendant appealed and at appeal, his award was reduced by 20% for contributory negligence. In the case of Proctor v City Facilities Management Ltd  QBD NIQB 99 the claimant was an experienced and skilled manual worker and had a good deal of experience in using ladders. He was required to carry out a painting job whilst standing a ladder on a metal stairwell within the warehouse at an ASDA store. Whilst he was using the ladder, the ladder slipped because it was unsecured. There had been no risk assessment to determine whether it was safe to use a ladder or how a ladder should be used. The Judge held that the claimant knew that what he was doing was dangerous and contributory negligence was assessed at one third, therefore he received only two thirds of his damages. In the case of Sharp v Top Flight Scaffolding Ltd  EWHC 479 QB the claimant worked as a scaffolder and was experienced in using ladders. The claimant was required to erect a scaffold at a residential property. The claimant’s colleague remained at ground level handing scaffold poles and boards to the claimant, who built up the scaffold to the eaves. The claimant did not insert any ladders between the scaffold levels and when the structure was complete, he was left with no means of descent. The claimant fell while trying to climb down the outside of the scaffold. The defendant contended that the claimant should have used internal ladders to provide a safe access between each level of the scaffold and his decision to climb down the outside of the scaffold was inherently dangerous. The claimant’s damages were reduced by 60% as a result of his contributory negligence. The claimant received 40% of his damages award because the defendant had not carried out a risk assessment and no method statement had been prepared and therefore if proper planning had taken place for this work, it was likely that internal ladders would have been required when constructing the scaffold and the accident could have been avoided. In the case of Quinn v St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council , the claimant was a learning assistant at the school and had placed displays on a classroom wall. She fell when descending from a table to a chair as the claimant was not using a stepladder to carry out the work. The claimant’s compensation claim succeeded at trial but the Judge made a deduction for contributory negligence of 20% as the claimant was aware that there was a stepladder which could have been used to carry out the work, however the court accepted that it was common practice at the school for displays to be put up without the use of stepladders. In the case of Casson v Hudson  EWCA the claimant fell when using a stepladder whilst clearing cobwebs and dust off a wall at a community centre. He was a prisoner on day release. The claimant fell from the ladder because the stepladder slipped and moved when he reached out from the ladder and because the ladder wasn’t securely footed. The claim was dismissed because the claimant was not employed by the church hall and the defendant contended that he had not been instructed to carry out the work, he was only allowed to carry out work that did not involve the use of ladders.
Where a deduction is made for contributory negligence, a successful claimant will still receive a substantial contribution towards their costs and expenses from the defendant’s insurers with no reduction for contributory negligence in relation to costs and expenses received as a deduction for contributory negligence only applies to the level of the compensation award.