Ladder Safety

Ladder safety and you – why it matters and how to stay safe.

Did you know there were 144 UK workplace deaths in 2015/16 and 26% of those were due to ‘falls from height’? In fact a third of all reported ‘falls from height’ incidents involve ladders and stepladders with 1200 major injuries to workers each year.

Many of these injuries could have be avoided by correct application of ladder safety principles, as they were caused by inappropriate or incorrect use of the equipment and they not only cause human suffering but also cost the UK economy £60 million every year*.

Ladder safety considerations

Why are there so many ladder related accidents*?

Ladders, and therefore ladder safety issues have been around for almost 10,000 years and are commonplace items to virtually every home and workplace. This, and their simplicity, generates the false impression that ladder work requires no special knowledge or skills – when in fact the opposite is true. Anyone who uses a ladder should be trained in ladder safety and have knowledge about ‘working at height’ to ensure they’re equipped about the range of risks involved and the precautions necessary to prevent injury.

Ladder safety tips to prevent accident or injury when working at height 

By following a few important ladder safety steps, you can help safe guard against any ladder accidents or personal injury when working at height;

Risk assessment; a ladder safety risk assessment should firstly be carried out to decipher if a ladder is the most suitable piece of equipment for the task in hand. 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.

Competent/trained user; following the risk assessment, if the ladder is the most appropriate piece of equipment, the ladder operator must be competent, i.e. have knowledge on how to use the equipment safely.

Choosing the correct ladder; Using a ladder for purposes not anticipated in its design is a common cause of falls. Therefore make sure the ladder you use is suitable for the planned task. (Safety regulations give specific measurement requirements.)

Inspecting the ladder; (If you spot any ladder defects, don’t use the ladder)

  • Check the stiles to ensure they’re not bent or damaged
  • Check that the feet are not worn, damaged or even missing.
  • Check that the rungs are not bent, worn, missing
  • Check that any locking mechanisms fully engage and are not bent or damaged.
  • Check the stepladder platform is not split or buckled
  • Check the steps or treads on stepladders – if they are contaminated they could be slippery

Setting up a ladder; Once you’ve carried out your pre-use checks and established that it’s in good condition, it’s important to know where and how to set up the ladder, and where and how not to. Check for overhead electrical wires, that the area around the base and top of the ladder are clear of debris, tools and other objects. If you are using a ladder in high traffic or public areas, set up suitable barricades. If you’re using a ladder in a doorway, lock the doors shut.

Use your ladder safely; Even when you’re not going very high, climbing a ladder can be a bit of a balancing act. By following these tips you can climb with greater comfort and security:

  • Make sure the ladder is at the correct angle (75° or 1 in 4)
  • Make sure the ladder it is long enough or high enough for the task
  • Wear protective footwear with slip-resistant soles and heels. Before mounting a ladder, make sure your footwear is in good condition, and wipe off the soles if necessary. Don’t climb a ladder if the soles of your shoes or boots are wet, muddy or slippery
  • Make sure you hold the rungs of the ladder, not the side rails. The rungs are easier to hold onto in case your foot slips. Face the ladder when going up or down and when working from it. Keep the centre of your body within the side rails.
  • Always maintain three-point contact by keeping two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, on the ladder at all times.
  • Only carry light materials and tools and avoid holding items when climbing
  • Don’t overload it and don’t overreach
  • Don’t try to move or extend ladders while standing on the rungs.
  • Do not work from the top three rungs. The higher you go on a ladder, the greater the possibility that it will slip out at the base.
  • Don’t stand ladders on moveable objects, such as pallets, bricks, lift trucks, tower scaffolds, excavator buckets, vans, or mobile elevating work platforms
  • For a leaning ladder, you should always secure it (e.g. by tying the ladder to prevent it from slipping either outwards or sideways) and have a strong upper resting point.
  • You should also always use an effective stability device

Securing a ladder; using an effective stability device and securing your ladder is imperative to safeguard the ladder user.  Ladders can be secured by either strapping the ladder to a suitable secure point and/or use an effective ladder stabiliser / anti-slip device (footing is the last resort and should be avoided). By securing the ladder safely helps to ensure that the ladder feet cannot move or slip and therefore the ladder and its operator stays safe.

Ladder stabiliser/ ladder anti-slip devices; when buying a ladder stabiliser/anti-slip device, think about the worst type of surface and conditions you will come across. For example, whether you will be using that ladder indoors or outdoors, or whether the ground will be wet, muddy or icy.  Only buy a ladder and associated stability device that will be suitable for your required surfaces.

* Source: Reported injuries to employees in Great Britain by kind of accident, severity of injury and main industry, 2014/15

*Refer to the HSE “Safe use of ladders and stepladders” guide for full list.