Safe use of Ladders and Stepladders

Most of us will need to use a ladder or stepladder to carry out certain tasks at some point, whether at work or home. It could be changing a light bulb, reaching for a book or painting a wall.

Ladders and stepladders are not banned under health and safety legislation, but they need to be used with care. This article covers some practical tips for using ladders and stepladders sensibly and safely and looks at what you should do and should not do to use ladders and stepladders safely.

Ladder Accident Statistics

Falls from height remain one of the biggest causes of injuries. Almost half of the fatal injuries to workers over the last five years were accounted for by just two different accident kinds – falls from a height and being struck by a moving vehicle.

Falls from height accounted for 25% of all fatal injuries and 8% of all non-fatal injuries. An average of 37 deaths per year. The use of ladders comes under the Work at Height Regulations 2005, which covers all work where there is a risk of a fall from a height.


Source: RIDDOR – HSE Annual Statistics 2019

Legislation – Use of Ladders in the Workplace


The legislation is quite specific about the use of ladders in the workplace. Ladders should only be used:

  • if the task is 30 minutes or less in duration
  • for light work that is carrying equipment or loads of 10kgs or less

All work at height should be kept to a minimum. Before starting the task, a risk assessment should be carried out. This will vary in complexity and will be much simpler for some tasks than others. When we think of work at height, we might visualise:

  • window cleaners
  • scaffolders or
  • painter and decorators

All who work at height for a living.

However, many of us may be tempted to go ahead with a seemingly simple task, such as changing a light bulb, but even simple tasks can be dangerous and require a risk assessment which will analyse the task and highlight the hazards.

If the task is prolonged, or there is a requirement to carry heavy loads, other more specialised equipment and training must be identified in a risk assessment and made available by the employer.

Using Ladders Safely Guide and Checklist

Three rules should be considered before any work at height begins, which are:

  • AVOID – Can you avoid working at height?
  • PREVENT – If the task cannot be avoided, can you prevent a fall?
  • MINIMISE – If you cannot completely rule out the risk of a fall, can you minimise the impact of a fall?

‘Pre-use’ Ladder Check List

If we identify a task that involves using a ladder, it must be checked:

  • by the user
  • before the work starts
  • to establish if something has changed (e.g. if it has been damaged)

Ladder Safety Checklist

  • the stiles (are they damaged or bent?)
  • the joints (for wear)
  • if the ladder is strong enough to carry the weight of the task?
  • the platform (is it split or buckled?)
  • any locking mechanism (is it damaged?)
  • the rungs (to ensure they are not bent)
  • are there any loose rivets?
  • the feet (are they worn, missing or damaged?)

If a ladder is found to be defective, worn or unsafe, do not use it. Take it out of general use and place a warning sign on it and report it to your manager or employer. Never try to repair a ladder yourself.

Who Could Carry Out The Work?

To carry out any work using a ladder, the user must be:

  • fit to carry out working at height duties
  • competent and
  • have received the appropriate instruction and training

Using a Leaning Ladder Safely – Checklist

When using leaning ladders, you should remember the following:

  • The ladder must be secure. If possible, tie the ladder or wedge the ladder against a wall. Footing the ladder is the last resort.
  • Don’t try to extend the ladder while on it
  • Make sure the ladder extends to 3 rungs beyond where you are working
  • Make sure the ladder is at the correct angle 75°or 1 in 4 (every 4 units up it will be 1 unit out)
  • Do not work off the top 3 rungs
  • Never overreach
  • Try not to hold items when on the ladder – use a tool belt
  • Do not work within 6 metres of any power line. If working on electrical equipment, use a wooden ladder or insulated ladder
  • Maintain 3 points of contact when climbing
  • If you must use both hands when on the ladder, you should take other measures to prevent a fall
  • Do not rest the ladder against weak surfaces, e.g. a gutter

Using a Stepladder Safely

Most of us will use a stepladder at some time. Remember, you must:

  • ensure all the feet are on firm flat ground or surface
  • carry only light items (less than 10 kgs)
  • never overreach
  • If you can’t hold onto something securely, don’t use the top 3 steps
  • Position the stepladder to face the work as working sideways could result in toppling over. If you have to work sideways, secure the steps
  • ensure you have 3 points of contact while you work. If you have to use both hands briefly, try to keep both feet on the same step and the knees or chest in contact with the stepladder

Always ensure the position of the leaning ladder or stepladder is safe from vehicles, doors, windows etc. and not in the way of the public.

Note: Always ensure you undertake the appropriate training needed to meet the Work at Height Regulations and to minimise any risk of injury. If unsure, check with your employer.


Further Resources