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Safe use of ladders and step ladders

Date posted: 16 March 2015

Although the use of stepladders and ladders in the workplace is not prohibited under any health and safety law, accidents could happen when using one. Therefore,providing guidance and sensible precautions for people working at height to keep safe is more than welcomed.

Here is a list of the basics you need to know when working on a ladder.

Using ladders and step ladders could be a low-risk task if you:

  1. Use the RIGHT type of ladder – This means the ladder you will be using should be suitable for the intended use. For example, low ones ask for a proportionate, sensitive approach. 
  2. Are competent enough- Proper training helps. This means that people that have had instructions and have completely understood how to use the equipment safely are less prone to accidents.
  3. You should check the ladder at the beginning of any working day and after it has been moved from one area to another. 


Check the: 

  • Condition of the feet 
  • Stiles
  • Rungs
  • Locking mechanisms
  • Platform of the stepladder
  • Treads or steps of stepladders.

 If anything is bended, missing, contaminated, worn, loose, or split, the ladder is hazardous and it could collapse, buckle, or be slippery. 

Minimize the risk of fall

1.    Check-List for a Leaning Ladder

  • There’s a golden rule that requires the ladder to be at a 75° angle. You can accomplish that if for every 4 units up there is 1 unit out. 
  • Make sure you carry light tools and materials, always in compliance with the manufacturer’s labels and precautions.
  • Ensure your navel (belt buckle) is within the stiles and long (and high) enough for the task you will be doing, and don’t overreach. 
  • Overloading is another reason you might be putting yourself at risk when using a leaning ladder. To avoid any unwanted falls, check the manufacturer’s label or pictogram for valuable information. 
  • When climbing up or down a ladder, always face the ladder rungs and grip the ladder instead of sliding down the stiles. If you need to have items with you, consider using a tool belt than holding them when climbing. 
  • Always have 3 points of contact (your feet and one hand) at all times, when climbing a ladder (and at the workstation to the extent possible).
  • When standing on the rungs, you should not try to extend or move the ladder. Always make sure there are three rungs (at least) above where you work. Never work off the top 3 rungs. 
  • Your ladder should stand on firm/level/clean ground and not on objects that could be moved (e.g. pallets, mobile elevating work platforms, bricks, etc.).
  • If you are performing any kind of electrical work, always use a non-conductive ladder and work further than 6m of an overhead power line (horizontally), unless it is insulated or made dead.
  • The ladder should best be positioned facing the work activity. However, there are tasks where you could work with the ladder side on (e.g. on narrow aisles or other places with space restrains. 

2.    Check List for a Stepladder

  • Always check all steps are level and all 4 feet of the stepladder are in full contact with the ground.
  • Make sure you have engaged all locking devices.
  • Carry only light tools and materials and never overreach.
  • Avoid using the top 3 steps to work on, unless you have a handhold. 
  • Avoid positioning the stepladder side on, except special occasions when this is not doable (e.g. space restrictions). It’s best to have it positioned facing the work of activity.
  • Avoid side loading or ensure the steps are free from tipping over if side-on loading cannot be avoided. 
  • Always have 3 points of contact (feet and one hand, or feet and chest and knees).

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What if I need to have both hands free?

A: It is important to maintain 3 points of contact. So, for light work and for a brief period, you can keep both feet on the same step and have the stepladder support your knees and chest. 

Q: How can I Secure a Ladder?

A: You can either tie the ladder (both stiles) to a point you find suitable. Alternatively, you can secure the ladder with a stability device or wedge the stiles against a wall. If none of the above is practical, try footing the ladder. However, this should be your last resort option. 

Q: What about Access Ladders?

A: Ladders used to access another level should always be extended 1m (at least) above the landing point and, of course, be tied, to provide safety and a secure handhold. It is NOT recommended to use stepladders as access ladders unless you have got on that is specifically designed for this task. Also, having a self-closing gate at the ladder access points is also a good idea. 

Q: How can I hire a ladder?

A: If you wish to hire a ladder, visit Best at hire, your National tool hire centre. With next day delivery available on a whole host of access equipment you can be sure to find the right ladder for your needs, For free expert advice please call us today.

Related Articles for working with ladders

How to transport your ladder securely

Safety in window cleaning using portable ladders

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