A Guide to Safely Using Ladders

Using ladders are the easiest and safest ways to work at height, but only when used properly. Ladders may seem simple to use but it is imperative to know that there are wrong ways of using ladders that puts the user at risk. In this article we will go through the key safety features of using ladders and helping you choose the right ladder for the right job type.

Selecting the Right Ladder for The Job

This article will focus on portable ladders such as extension and step ladders, which are the most used ladders. When looking at any job you should carry out a risk assessment. As part of this risk assessment, when it comes to working at height you need to decide first, can you avoid working at height? If not, you should consider how long the job will take you, this will help determine the type of ladder you need.

It’s recommended by the HSE that jobs that take a duration of longer than 30 minutes, other means of access should be considered. For longer duration tasks a step ladder with an enclosed platform or a fixed mobile tower may be the safest solution.

The next thing to consider when looking at which ladder you require is the height of the task. You need to ensure that whatever ladder you are using is suitable for the job in hand and you do not need to overreach when stood on the ladder. This means looking at the working height on the specifications, the working height is usually the last standing height + around 1.5m so it you’re slightly smaller than this you can work out your own calculations by adding your height onto the last safe standing height.

The final thing to consider is if you are using your ladders for personal or business use. If you are using them for business, you should purchase to the EN131 standard to ensure maximum testing. If you are buying domestically and you still want a safe and tested pair of ladders, EN131 Non-Professional is the classification you need to search for.

Ladder Pre-Checks – Before Use

Ladders should be given a thorough inspection every 3/6 months by a competent person who knows exactly what they are looking for. With this said it is also important to check the ladder you are going to be standing on before every use. If you are unsure how to do this or what to look for here are some key pointers:

  • Check the Stiles – If the stiles appear to be bent or split this could cause the ladder to collapse.
  • Check the Feet – If the feet are missing, worn or damaged the risk of the ladder slipping increases.
  • Check the Rungs – If the rungs are bent, missing or lose the chance of falling again increases, as the ladder can easily become unstable.
  • Check Locking Bars – If you are using a stepladder, you should check the locking bars and ensure that they are not bent and the fixings are not worn or damaged.
  • Check the Platform – If you are using a platform stepladder you also need to check the platform for any defects, such as the platform being split or buckled. Should you find any defects, do not use this ladder, as your safety could be at risk.

Setting Up A Ladder

When setting up your ladder there are some basic ways to ensure they are setup correctly. First of all, let’s start with step ladders. When your step ladder is opened you will see it has what we call locking bars. To ensure maximum safety check these have been opened fully, you can test this by pressing down on them with your hand, they should feel sturdy and be fully open.

With an extension ladder make sure you take a look at the manufacturer instructions and look at how the mechanism works, as all suppliers are different. Once you’ve checked this you can use the mechanism to extend your ladder to the correct height, pull down on the section of the ladder to be sure that this is locked. When using your extension ladder, you should create a angle of approximately 75 degrees using the 1 in 4 rule.

When standing on any ladder make sure the ground is even, if not this could cause and easy way for the ladder to slip underneath you, handy accessories such as the laddermat and similar stabilising systems will help with this.

Using Your Ladder Safely

We’ve covered buying the right equipment, inspections, and the setup, so now the important part, climbing.

You should:

  • Keep a firm grip of the stiles and always keep three points of contact where possible.
  • Keep your body centred between the ladder and look forward.
  • Never Overreach – If you cannot reach the job in hand, move the ladder to a better position.
  • Wear suitable clothing, fitted trousers and flat footwear with rubber soles.
  • Tie in an extension ladder when possible, to do so
  • Use safety accessories when working at height to avoid slipping
  • Never stand too high on a ladder. If your belt buckle is over the top of an extension ladder, you have climbed too far, you also should not stand on the top of a builders / swingback step ladder.

Summary & Further Advice

We’ve hopefully covered a wide range of safety concerns when climbing ladders and this will not give you the knowledge required to safely work at height. If you still have any unanswered questions and need to speak to the experts the team at Ladderstore have a wide range of safe working at height guides and an Ladder Association Accredited customer service team ready to take you calls.

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