Safe Use of Ladders & Stepladders Training Resource

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This guidance will highlight the simple, sensible precautions that should be taken to keep people safe when using ladders and stepladders in the workplace. Ladders and stepladders can be a practical option for low-risk, short-duration tasks. Make sure you use the right type of ladder and you know how to use it safely.

When is a Ladder the Most Suitable Equipment?

Ladders can be used for work at height when a risk assessment has shown that using equipment offering a higher level of fall protection is not justified because of the low risk and short duration of use, or there are existing workplace features which cannot be altered.

Short duration is not the deciding factor in establishing whether the use of a ladder is acceptable or not, you should have first considered the risk. As a guide, if your task would require staying up a leaning ladder or stepladder for more than 30 minutes at a time, it is recommended that you consider alternative equipment. You should only use ladders in situations where they can be used safely, e.g. where the ladder will be level and stable, where it is reasonably practicable to do so and where the ladder can be secured.

Check Your Ladder

You should always carry out a ‘pre-use’ check before use to spot any obvious visual defects and to make sure the ladder is safe to use. Other checks should be made after something has changed e.g. a ladder has been dropped or moved from a dirty area to a clean area.

Pre-Use checks should be done:

  • By the user.
  • At the beginning of the working day or beginning of task.
  • After something has changed, e.g. a ladder has been dropped or moved from a dirty area to a clean area.

If something changes, checks should include:

  • The stiles – make sure they are not bent or damaged, as it could buckle or collapse.
  • The feet – if they are missing, worn or damaged the ladder could slip.
  • Attached debris – when moving from soft/dirty ground to a smooth, solid surface to make sure the foot material and not the dirt is contacting the ground.
  • The rungs – if they are bent, worn, missing or loose the ladder could fail.
  • Any locking mechanisms – if they are bent or the fixings are worn or damaged the ladder could collapse. Ensure any locking bars are engaged.
  • The stepladder platform – if split or buckled the ladder could become unstable or collapse.
  • The steps or treads on stepladders – if they are contaminated they could be slippery, if loose they could collapse. If you spot any defects, don’t use and notify your employer.

Use Your Ladder Safely

There are simple precautions that can minimise the risk of a fall.

When using a leaning ladder to carry out a task:

  • Only carry light materials/tools. Read the manufacturer label on ladder and assess risks.
  • Don’t overreach – make sure your belt buckle (navel) stays within the stiles.
  • Make sure it is long enough or high enough for the task.
  • Don’t overload it – consider your weight and the equipment/materials being carried.
  • Make sure the ladder angle is at 75° – use the 1 in 4 rule (i.e. 1 unit out for every 4 units up) – see Figure 1.

  • Always grip the ladder and face the ladder rungs while climbing or descending – don’t slide down the stiles.
  • Don’t try to move or extend ladders while standing on the rungs.
  • Don’t work off the top 3 rungs. Ensure the ladder extends by 1m (three rungs) above where you are working.
  • Don’t stand ladders on moveable objects, such as pallets, equipment, lift trucks or vans.
  • Avoid holding items when climbing (consider using a tool belt).
  • Don’t work within 6m horizontally of any overhead power line, unless it has been made dead or is protected with insulation. Use a non-conductive ladder (e.g. fibreglass or timber).
  • Maintain three points of contact when climbing (this means a hand and two feet) wherever possible at the work position – see Figures 2 and 3.
  • Where you cannot maintain a handhold, other than for a brief period (e.g. to hold a nail or screw to start it etc) you will need to take other measures to prevent a fall.
  • For a leaning ladder, you should secure it (e.g. by tying it to prevent it from slipping) and have a strong upper resting point, i.e. do not rest a ladder against weak upper surfaces such as glazing or plastic gutters – see Figure 4.
  • You could also use an effective stability device.

When using a stepladder to carry out a task:

  • Check all four stepladder feet are in contact with the ground and the steps are level.
  • Only carry light materials and tools.
  • Don’t overreach.
  • Don’t stand and work on the top 3 steps (including a step forming the very top of the stepladder) unless there is a suitable handhold.
  • Ensure any locking devices are engaged.
  • Try to position the stepladder to face the work activity and not side on.
  • Try to avoid work that imposes a side loading, such as side-on drilling through solid materials.
  • Where side-on loadings cannot be avoided, you should prevent the steps from tipping over, e.g. by tying the steps. Otherwise, use a more suitable type of access equipment.
  • Maintain three points of contact at the working position. This means two feet and one hand, or when both hands need to be free for a brief period, two feet and the body supported by the stepladder (see Figure 5 and associated text).

Place of Work Where the Ladder Will be Used

As a guide, only use a ladder:

  • On firm ground.
  • On level ground – refer to the manufacturer’s pictograms on the side of the ladder. Use proprietary levelling devices, not ad-hoc packing such as bricks, blocks, timbers etc.
  • On clean, solid surfaces. These need to be clean and free of loose material so the feet can grip. Shiny floor surfaces can be slippery even without contamination.
  • Where it will not be struck by vehicles (protect the area using suitable barriers or cones).
  • Where it will not be pushed over by other hazards such as doors or windows. Secure the doors (not fire exits) and windows where possible.
  • Where the general public are prevented from using it, walking underneath it or being at risk because they are too near. Use barriers, cones or a person standing guard at the base.
  • Where it has been secured.

Options for Securing Ladders

The options are as follows:

  • Tie the ladder to a suitable point, making sure both stiles are tied, see Figures 6, 7 and 8.
  • Where this is not practical, secure with an effective ladder stability device.
  • If this is not possible, then securely wedge the ladder, e.g. wedge the stiles against a wall.
  • If you can’t achieve any of these options, foot the ladder. Footing is the last resort. Avoid it, where ‘reasonably practicable’, by using other access equipment.

Ladders Used for Access

In general:

  • Ladders used to access another level should be tied (see Figure 9) and extend at least 1m above the landing point to provide a secure handhold. At ladder access points, a self-closing gate is recommended.
  • Stepladders should not be used to access another level, unless they have been specifically designed for this.

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