Working Safely with Ladders

Each year there are dozens of serious incidents where workers have fallen from ladders. Most of these incidents involve a ladder being used incorrectly or inappropriately.

Workers in construction, retail and building maintenance are most commonly injured; however, any worker using a ladder is at risk.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has the responsibility to ensure the safety of workers, including consulting with workers and providing the appropriate safety systems and equipment on-site.

Most serious and fatal falls are from a height of less than 4 metres. That’s the equivalent of about a single storey.

When it comes to falls from ladders, serious and fatal falls can happen from both step ladders and extension ladders. It doesn’t matter how far you fall. If you land on your head on concrete, you can be seriously injured or even killed.

Workers are most at risk of falling from an A-frame style step ladder if they are:

  • standing on the top 2 steps and/or
  • over-reaching.

Workers are most at risk of falling from an extension ladder:

  • if the ladder slips either outwards or sideways
  • if they lose balance, or
  • when getting on or off the landing space.

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Six Steps to stay safe on ladders

Below are a few key safety things to remember when using ladders.

Choose the correct ladder

Choose the right ladder for the job. It should meet Australian Standards, be rated for industrial use and should be a suitable type for the job.

Inspect the ladder before use

Inspect the ladder for damage before each use to ensure that is not damaged. Damage such as warping, rust, or damage to rungs increases the likelihood of a ladder failing suddenly. If the ladder is damaged do not use it!

Checking the ladder for dirt, or anything that could make the ladder unstable when using is also good practice. Caked on dirt or mud on the feet can cause the ladder to be unstable when setup. Dirt and/or wear on the rungs (steps) can sometimes cause them to become slippery.

Maintain 3 points of contact

Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder. This means two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on the ladder. Never lean or reach away from the ladder while using it.

Do not overload the ladder

Check the load rating of the ladder, and do not exceed this rating. The combined weight of the person using the ladder and any items or tools should never exceed the working load limit on the ladder. Overloading the ladder or putting more weight on the ladder than what the manufacturer has specified can cause it to suddenly collapse.

If carrying tools, it’s always best for these to be attached to a belt, as opposed to being carried in your hand. This is especially important if there is a risk of tolls falling and injuring people working at ground level.

Do not use a ladder on uneven ground

Always set up the ladder on a flat, stable surface. If this isn’t possible then use a ladder that includes ladder safety devices like leg levellers, anti-slip gutter guards and stabilisers.

The 4-to-1 rule for extension ladders

If you’re using an extension ladder, secure it at the top, bottom or both. If this isn’t possible then have someone hold the ladder in place while in use.

Extension ladders should be angled at a ratio of 1:4. That is, position the base of the ladder 1 metre away from the structure for every 4 metres of height.

If you need help with establishing a safe workplace, conducting high-risk activities or training your staff on working safely at height, our team can help. Feel free to contact us by using the link below:

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