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In the spotlight with Gail Hounslea

16 March 2021

This month we put Gail Hounslea in the spotlight to find out how she became the first female chair of the Ladder Association and what she thinks are the greatest challenges in the working at height sector.

How did you get into the health and safety industry?

I came into the industry in 2004 when I founded the company Ladderstore. I saw a gap in the market for access equipment to be sold online and since then, I have been working hard in this industry. In 2015 I was nominated onto the Ladder Association Council and have enjoyed working with manufacturers, distributors and training companies to try and eradicate accidents whilst working at height. I strongly believe everyone has the right to go to work and come back safely to their families. 

How did you become the first female chair of the Ladder Association?

Ladderstore became a member of the Ladder Association which is the international industry body. There was a vacancy of the Council so I decided that it would be interesting and useful to know what was going on in legislation and guidance on ladders, so I put myself forward and was elected to the Council. 

After being on the Council for about five years I was asked to go onto the Executive and then became the Vice Chair with the Chairman position coming vacant a few years later. I am the only woman currently on the Council and the Executive and I am hoping that other women come onboard in the next couple of years.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My job is very varied and I really enjoy the fact that I can be talking to customers one minute and suppliers the next. Ladderstore is also part of our local Working Well Together Group where we work with the HSE to disseminate best Health & safety practices to small companies. This means working with lots of Health & Safety Managers which I find really interesting.

The Ladder Association has recently partly funded a Test & Research Centre of which I am a Trustee, this is a specialist UK facility for testing equipment and can also do testing to ensure that working at height equipment adheres to current standards. Both the Ladder Association and the Test & Research Centre strive to gain new insights into the root causes of falls from height making the workplace a safer place to be.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the health and safety industry in the UK?

I think training is a big challenge especially in the current climate. People do not think that they need to be trained on using a ladder but working at heights is one of the biggest causes of workplace accidents. The Ladder Association runs an accredited training course for both users and inspectors of ladders and when we run courses at Ladderstore we always get very good feedback even from people who have been using a ladder at work for years.

The current pandemic has made us think a little more around training and the Ladder Association has taken the opportunity to move some of the training online. Also, Training Providers have made the practical part of the training Covid secure.

PASMA training is mandatory for anyone using a scaffold tower and again choosing the correct training provider ensures that the training is robust and Covid safe.

Checking that equipment is safe is also a big challenge. Some companies go for the cheapest piece of equipment available but that might not be the correct product for the job and with some guidance they may get a piece of equipment that is more universal or may last longer standing up to rigorous use on site. 

How do you think these challenges can be overcome?

Picking the correct training provider and ensuring that the delegate knows why they are doing the training is often key to getting the maximum impact. Sometimes delegates come onto training courses just to tick a box but if they understand why they are on this training course and how the learning will enhance their working life it embeds the training into their job.

Getting value for money on equipment is always a hard thing to reconcile for some companies. We work with all the major UK manufacturers and some of the European ones and this ensures that the ladders and access equipment that Ladderstore sells is certified to the relevant standards and have been tested, meaning the products are robust and will last as opposed to some of the flimsier imports which may look very similar but will not stand the test of everyday use.

What sets Ladderstore apart from its competitors?

The team at Ladderstore are all Ladder Association trained as users and inspectors of ladders, meaning whoever you speak to on the phone has knowledge of using and inspecting equipment. We have training from manufacturers so that we know all about the construction and testing of ladders and towers and are experts on the latest legislation. This means that our customers get all the latest updates and impartial advice on which product is best for their use.

We also specialise in spares meaning that if you only need a spare part to make your ladder usable we can source that and the customer does not have to replace that piece of equipment. Also we have a simple system that can be used to check your ladders - Ladder Log is a ladder inspection system that ensures your business will meet all the requirements of the Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) 2005. Ladder Log Ladder Inspection Tags and Stickers are attached to your ladders and provide clear information about the ladder and its current status for users. We also provide business registers for companies to easily file away information of your ladder inspections.

What are your most memorable successes at Ladderstore?

The most memorable moments is when we’ve supplied equipment for some really interesting projects. For example Henry Todd the Veteran Mountaineer and Himalayan Expedition Leader came to Ladderstore when he needed to source extra strong ladders to ship out to Nepal.

We’ve also supplied rolling ladders to Wimbledon so that they can change the numbers on the older scoreboards. It was lovely to see them in use when watching Wimbledon on the TV.

Ladderstore has been recognised in the prestigious Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer list, sponsored by City & Guilds, which is compiled annually by the National Apprenticeship Service and recognises excellence in businesses that employ apprentices.

What's next in the product pipeline for Ladderstore?

Ladderstore stocks the range by Little Giant, an American company that design and manufacture very innovative ladders that have multiple uses. We are looking forward to a new range this year and some of their models have ground cue, which is the visible strip on the bottom rung and when this is stepped on it gives an audible and tactile signal to let the user know you are on the last step.

Ladderstore is always looking to our manufacturers for innovations to keep our customers safe when working at height but safety is our first priority. We have had new legislation on towers - the EN1004 standard has changed. EN1004-1 tells us what materials, dimensions, design loads and performance requirements mobile access towers should conform to. The standard has been around since 2004, but a new version was published in November 2020. It’s titled EN1004-1:2020.

The old EN 1004:2004 standard will be withdrawn a year later, in November 2021. The months leading up to the withdrawal are effectively a transition period, during which designers, manufacturers and suppliers will switch to providing mobile access towers that comply with, and are certified to, the new EN1004-1:2020.

What's your vision for the future of Ladderstore?

Ladderstore to be the first place that any business who wants to buy working at height equipment that is guaranteed as being safe. We only work with the best manufacturers who manufacture to the highest standards and Ladderstore does not stock any imports that could fail and cause an accident. Ladderstore is a true specialist in working at height equipment and we want to simplify the way that companies purchase equipment safely.

What do you think the medium term future holds for the safety industry globally?

Like most industry sectors there is a constant pressure for products to be made cheaply but in the health and safety sector safety has to be the priority. When the world is so volatile as it is at the moment it is easy for procurement teams and buyers to slip into the habit of buying on price but in the long term this does not always prove to be the best decision.

What health and safety issues are you most passionate about?

At Ladderstore we want anyone who is using working at height equipment in their job to return safely home after a day's work and not end up as one of the falls from height statistics. We know that if we give advice and guidance on the correct piece of equipment to use and the user is trained on how to use it they will be safe and return home safely after a day's work.

How can we entice more young talent to work in the health and safety sector?

I am a great believer in you can’t be what you can’t see so when the benefits of health and safety are seen as a key part of an organisation, young talent will see the opportunities and want to be part of them. I have met some great passionate young people that are ambassadors for the industry and more young females are going into what was once seen as a male environment in the construction industry which is great.

If young people get better training and engagement they will see that health and safety is a career to be proud of, that can really make a difference and even save lives. 

Gail Hounslea is managing director at Ladderstore and chair of the Ladder Association. For more information, visit www.ladderstore.com and www.ladderassociation.org.uk