I was hoping to visit a friend whose yacht was ashore in a boat yard. He was not there so I decided to go on board to leave him a note. The deck of the yacht was about 3 metres above the ground. Access was via a short extension ladder, approximately 2.5 metres long, lashed to the boarding ladder fitted to the transom. When I was near the top of the extension ladder, the locking mechanism failed, the ladder retracted, the lashing failed, and the ladder fell away.
Fortunately at the time I was holding onto the transom ladder with both hands. I was left dangling without being sure how high off the ground and without being able to see whether the ladder was on the ground directly underneath me. There was no one around to assist so I had no choice but to drop to the ground. Fortunately the ladder had fallen clear and I came to no harm. I realised however that had I fallen onto the ladder on the ground, I could have broken an ankle.
Lessons Learned: The failure of the locking mechanism on the ladder was not obvious. However, I should have paid more attention to the security of the lashing. In general, slips and falls represent a significant proportion of accidents on vessels. I nearly added to the statistics!
The Health & Safety at Work Act Section 4 requires any duty holder, such as a boat yard owner to exercise a ‘duty of care’ towards anyone on their premises. That duty is, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the health, safety and welfare of anyone on their premises. It is also instructive to view the UK Health & Safety Executive guidance on the safe use of ladders, which can be viewed at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/work-at-height/using-ladders-safely.htm
Boat yards used by owners of recreational craft should be aware of their exposure to this risk and their responsibility in the eyes of the law. Owners of such craft have a basic responsibility not to use equipment when they are unsure of its condition and if concerned they should report their concerns to the shipyard.