Is This the Most Dangerous Ladder in the UK?

Ladder tested for defects

THE TEST & RESEARCH Centre has seen its fair share of dodgy ladders.

But when their team was asked to examine a suspicious shipment of ladders intercepted by Trading Standards at the Port of Felixtowe in February 2021, even they were shocked at just how dangerous these products turned out to be.

Defective LadderThe ladders were a type of telescopic standing ladder – ones that can be used in standing mode (like a step ladder) or leaning ladder mode (like an extension ladder). They were labelled ‘EN 131’, implying that they complied with the European standard for ladders.

Dodgy Ladder

However, missing contact details, product codes and manufacture dates, plus the presence of an illegal ‘CE’ mark, raised suspicions with Suffolk County Council Trading Standards.

Within a few days, the ladder was in the test lab at Test & Research Centre, the not-for-profit testing facility for work at height equipment, undergoing an assessment.

Ladder Tests

There’s a whole range of tests a ladder must pass before it can be labelled ‘EN 131’, including strength tests, slip tests and cyclic tests of the joints and connections. There are also specific requirements for materials and dimensions. This gives consumers confidence that their ladder meets basic safety standards.

The ladders in this shipment might have been labelled ‘EN 131’ but as Test & Research Centre were about to prove, they would fail many of the standard’s safety-critical tests in spectacular fashion.

Their testing found:

  • The base width was too small, making it unstable
  • The rung spacing was inconsistent, making falls more likely
  • No slip-resistant surface on half the rungs
  • It bent under pressure, up to 4x greater than the limit – you expect a ladder to be rigid and inflexible, but this was the opposite!
  • Mandatory safety markings and information were missing
  • The rungs could easily be pulled out of the stile – a most worrying finding, as it means the rung could collapse from under you
  • One stile cracked during the lightest load testing – a serious structural failure that put a halt to further testing
Ladder bending test
In a bending test, you’d expect the stiles to deflect up to 105mm – this ladder deflected 290mm, over 3x the limit.

Due to the diligence of Trading Standards Officers at the Port of Felixstowe, 100 dangerous ladders were seized for further investigation. With the Test & Research Centre’s help, testing proved that those suspicions were correct and they were right to prevent them from entering the UK.

Surveillance

Graham Crisp, Head of Suffolk County Council’s Trading Standards, said: “Our Imports Surveillance Team at the Port of Felixstowe is funded by the Office for Product Safety and Standards, and its role is to protect consumers from unsafe and dangerous goods, just like these ladders.

“We stop these products reaching our shops or online marketplaces so that members of the public don’t even get the chance to buy them. We will physically check consignments at the port, and detain anything which is unsafe or dangerous. The whole process is a great team effort, from the intelligence we receive about consignments arriving at the port, through to having the items tested.

Ladder loading test
A load is suspended from the ladder to see if it remains rigid, but it bends 100.5m – over 4x greater than the 23mm limit.

Online Ladders

“When you’re shopping online, it is tempting to pick up those amazing deals that you see on social media or in online marketplaces. But if a price looks too good to be true, there’s usually a reason why. We encourage people to only make purchases from reputable retailers and to check the product for conformity to standards – if these marks are missing, the product hasn’t been tested to ensure it complies with the necessary safety requirements and could be a serious risk.”

Ladder rungs
The rungs could easily be pulled out of the stile

Fall From Height

headshot
John Darby, General Manager of Test & Research Centre

John Darby, General Manager of Test & Research Centre, said the 100 dodgy ladders could have caused serious falls from height.

He said: “These are quite possibly the most dangerous ladders I have ever come across. The poor connections between the rung and stile are the most troubling. I have no doubt that in use these could have failed.

And sadly, it’s not a case that only in a ‘certain scenario’ these could have failed – the connection is so poor it’s highly likely to fail during normal use. There were 100 dangerous ladders in that shipment and each of these was a fall from height waiting to happen.”

Ladder loading test
A load is applied to the ladder for one minute, but it breaks before the time is up.

Defective Ladder

Expressing her shock at the attempted import of such seriously defective ladders, Gail Hounslea, Chair of the Ladder Association, added: “The condition of these ladders was truly shocking. Consumers have every right to expect the ladder they’re buying to be safe, but this case reminds us that unscrupulous suppliers are still trying to sneak dangerous products into unsuspecting UK homes and workplaces. If you’re purchasing a ladder, please be vigilant. Source ladders from reputable suppliers who put your safety first – any Ladder Association member is a fantastic place to start – and ask to see proof of certification to BS EN 131.”

 

Watch a short video showing these ladders being tested in Test & Research Centre’s laboratory. You’ll see for yourself why they were dangerous.

 

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