Using Ladders Safely In The Workplace

Primarily, ladders are a means of egress and access. Many falls occur when individuals are working from a ladder. This also happens when a ladder is used for:

  • Movement and when the working width is limited
  • Planning work. The time involved to move and set up the ladder is quite often underestimated and the working position on a ladder is frequently uncomfortable (standing on narrow rungs, working above shoulder height, and needing to stretch sideways) and can cause musculoskeletal disorders.

For those reasons, it should be considered whether a scaffolding or elevating work platform would be more efficient and safer.

Portable ladders

A single or extension ladder generally should only be used as a means of egress or access from a work area.

A ladder should only be used as a working platform for short duration or light work that can be safely conducted from a ladder.

Choosing Ladders

If a ladder is used it must be chosen to suit the task that will be undertaken.

When doing this, you need to consider the prevailing weather conditions, the physical surroundings where the task will be performed, and how long it will take to complete the task.

The ladder used should be one that has been manufactured for industrial uses and has a minimum 120 kg load rating.

Positioning The Ladder

Whenever a ladder is used in a workplace, it must be set up on a stable and solid surface and also be set up so that the ladder is prevented from slipping.

You can prevent extension and single ladders from slipping by:

  • setting step ladders up in the fully opened position and placing ladders at a 4:1 slope
  • securing ladders at the bottom or top, or at both ends, if necessary.

Egress Or Access

Whenever an extension or fixed ladder is used for egress or access, check that:

  • a stable, firm work platform is available that is free of any obstructions, that can be stepped onto from a ladder
  • there is fall protection at the stepping-off point where the working platform is accessed by individuals
  • the ladder extends one metre at least above the stepping-off point from the working platform.

Using Ladders Safely

Whenever a ladder is used, the following should be checked:

  • the ladder is in good working condition – inspect the ladder for faults, including broken footing, stiles, and rungs before using it
  • remove any damaged ladders from service
  • set up ladders on level, stable, and firm ground
  • the ladder is at the proper height for the task being performed to avoid stretching or reaching

It’s important that the ladder is not positioned too far or too close from the support structure – the distance in between the supporting structure and ladder base should be around one metre for each four metres of the ladder’s working height (4:1 ratio)


  • the ladder should not be placed so that the weight of any person who is using the ladder and the weight of the ladder are supported by its rungs
  • all locking devices are secure on the ladder
  • no tools or materials are carried while climbing on a ladder – a side pouch or tool belt should be used
  • only light-duty work is done while on a ladder, where it is possible to maintain three points of contract and tools may be used with one hand safely
  • slip-resistant steps, rungs, or base are provided
  • workers wear slip-resistant shoes

Ladders should also not be used without providing appropriate additional precautions:

  • in doorways or access areas, lock the door shut or erect a barrier, if necessary
  • on an elevating work platform or scaffolding to achieve extra height
  • near any power lines unless a worker has been authorised and trained and the right ladder is used
  • in very windy or wet conditions
  • near traffic areas, unless a working area has been barricaded.

Whenever a ladder is being used, it is not safe to:

  • use a metal-reinforced or metal ladder when working on a live electrical installation
  • conduct work like oxy cutting or arc welding
  • work above other people
  • let anybody else be on the ladder while working.

Unless appropriate and additional fall protection equipment is utilised along with the ladder, it is not safe:

  • to use a stepladder beside a railing or near a penetration or open floor
  • to overreach (the centre of the worker’s torso should be inside the ladder stiles at all times)
  • to use any hand or power tool that requires two hands for operating it, such as circular saws or concrete cutting saws
  • to use any tools requiring a high level of leverage force that, if released, might cause the worker to fall from the ladder or over-balance, such as a pinch bar
  • to face away from the ladder whenever climbing up or down it, or working from it
  • to stand on a rung of the ladder that is closer than 900 mm to the top of an extension or single ladder
  • to stand any higher than the second tread that is below any stepladder’s top plate (except three-rung step ladders).

Training and guidance on the care, safe use, and selection of portable ladders should be exercised according to the Portable ladder series from AS/NZS 1892.

The safe use recommendations from the manufacturer should also be followed as well.

Fixed Ladders

A fixed ladder should always be installed according to the guidelines provided by AS 1657.

Ladder cages inside of fixed ladder do not prevent a fall but just funnel a fall and more injuries may occur, in some cases, from striking a protective back guard while on the way down.

These cages can hinder rescues as well.

Therefore, fixed ladders that have angles that exceed 75 degrees horizontally should be fitted with either a temporary or permanent fall-arrest system (rails or anchorage lines).

The angle of slope should be at least 70 degrees horizontal but not greater than 75 degrees horizontal.

The ladder should never overhang the individual who is climbing the ladder.

If there is a more than 75-degree angle, a safe system for working should be provided to prevent falls such as a full-body harness that has a double arm lanyard or a permanent fall-arrest system.

A rescue procedure that is specifically designed to be used in ladder cage situations should be developed.

Rescue procedures training should take place before a fixed ladder is used.

Ladder Maintenance

A competent individual should inspect ladders regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Any ladders that have the following faults must be repaired or replaced:

  • fibreglass stiles that are severely faded, chipped, or cracked with exposed fibres
  • timber stiles that are bruised, cracked, splintered, or warped
  • metal stiles that are cracked, crushed, kinked, bent or twisted or with damaged feet
  • top plates, treads, steps, or rungs that are loose, damaged, worn, or missing
  • loose, broken, or missing tie rods
  • brackets, braces, or ropes that are worn, broken, or missing
  • timber members that are covered in opaque paint or another treatment that might disguise faults within the timber
  • worn, bent, loose, or missing fasteners, i.e. pins, bolts, and rivets
  • damaged or worn feet, including non-slip material.

If you are looking for knowledgeable and experienced scaffolders, who have leading-hands that work together with you and offer expert advice, please contact us at Skelscaff today on 1300 266 607 or email us at

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