Five Minutes With Gail Hounslea, Chairman of the Ladder Association and Managing Director of Ladderstore

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As part of the NAS’ Working at Height Week, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to spend (a virtual!) Five Minutes With Gail Hounslea, Chairman of the Ladder Association and Managing Director of Ladderstore.

1. How did you first come into this industry?

I started a company, Ladderstore, in 2004 to sell ladders and access equipment and have been working hard in that industry since. We work closely with all the major manufacturers of access equipment to give our customers a choice of what is the best piece of equipment for their task. Ladderstore have been members of the Ladder Association for about 9 years – I was nominated onto the Ladder Association Council in 2015 – and have enjoyed working with manufacturers, distributors and training companies to try and eradicate accidents whilst working at height. Everyone has the right to go to work and come back safely and we have been working with companies and individuals to make sure that they have the correct piece of equipment for the job and that they know how to use it safely.

2. Falls from height, what two sentences best describe the effects?

Falls from height can be life changing for the person that has the accident and their family. They can happen in an instant and can often be avoidable as the result of someone being distracted, under time pressure or using the wrong piece of equipment.

3. What are the repercussions of not undertaking regular Health and Safety Training?

Health and safety training exists to serve a purpose, that is to keep workers safe and to minimise risk when carrying out a range of tasks. We’ve often heard stories of business owners, site managers and employees ignoring health and safety advice or not being offered training to safely execute their job roles. Regular training also allows you to keep up with current legislation changes, without which it is very easy to make a small mistake which can have large consequences, including prosecution, fines, imprisonment, injuries to workers and the ultimate penalty, death.

4. Tell us about the ‘true cost’ of a workplace accident.

The true cost of a workplace accident can be difficult to even think about. There are so many factors to consider when looking at a workplace accident. Financially, it is common for the HSE to fine companies found guilty of health and safety errors – we recently reported on a record £1.1m fine – which can put enormous pressure on business owners and has even seen some companies collapse.

Other than financially, there are also mental and physical consequences of a workplace accident. The injured party and their families, as well as any supervisors and site managers who may be responsible on site, are heavily affected. One name that comes to mind is Jason Anker. Jason is an ambassador for the No Falls Foundation and his life changed significantly when he had an avoidable fall from a ladder in 1993 which resulted in him being paralysed from the waist down.

But Jason isn’t alone – there are countless others whose lives have been affected as a result of a fall from height and worse, 29 people who lost their lives in 2019/20 after a fall from height while at work.

5. What are your proudest achievements?

Personally, my proudest achievement is my two daughters – both who have moved back with their families to home during the pandemic and don’t look like they are moving back to London this side of Christmas!

Professionally, it is running a company that is at the forefront of trying to keep people safe when working at height. We pride ourselves on making sure that we help people choose the right piece of equipment for the task and we encourage anyone who is using a ladder for work to check their ladder before use and be Ladder Association trained on how to use it safely.

6. What’s the most helpful advice you have ever been given?

Personally, it is something that my Mum says ‘Nothing ever stays the same’ which is really helpful in tough times and also good to remember even when things are going well! In a work context, the Ladder Association’s message and piece of advice for their ongoingGet a Grip’ on ladder safety campaign should be spread far and wide – ‘If it’s right to use a ladder, use the right ladder and get trained to use it safely’.

7. What’s next for you/your company?

I am looking forward to my tenure as Chairman of the Ladder Association and also as a Trustee of the new Test & Research Centre, a specialist UK facility for access equipment testing and research as both organisations’ strive to gain new insights into the root causes of falls from height.

Our experienced team at Ladderstore will continue to work closely with businesses and end users to make sure that they use the right piece of equipment for the job and not just the one that is on hand. We want to help make workplaces safer and as the lockdown eases, it is more important than ever.

8. What has your experience been of working with the NAS?

The Ladder Association has recently become a partner of the NAS and we are glad to be involved in their current Working at Height campaign to demonstrate to NAS members and the wider industry why ladder safety is so important.

9. What does 2020 hold for you?

2020 has been an ‘unprecedented’ year for us all but there are two main areas where I see real potential for the industry, not just in the remainder of this year but for years to come. The first is the Ladder Association’s ongoing work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Working at Height as we strive to improve the safety environment for the 10 million people in the UK who work at height. I look forward to helping them campaign for enhanced reporting and specifically the introduction of reporting on near misses.

Secondly, as Trustee of the independent Test and Research Centre I mentioned earlier, I look forward to seeing the Centre go from strength to strength. This year alone we’ve already seen their testing expertise help prevent a large shipment of faulty products from entering the UK market and they have very recently invested in automated fatigue ladder testing equipment.

10. How can we find out more about you/your company?

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