Using Ladders Safely

Working at height can be tricky, particularly if you’re required to adopt an awkward position to reach something. As such, there are important points to remember before ascending a ladder or stepladder.

Here are the key aspects of using ladders safely – make sure you and your team know them before getting to work.

 Check your equipment

 The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends you carry out a thorough inspection of any ladder or stepladder before using it. If you own ladders, you also need to check they are fit for purpose before anyone else uses them.

Where ladders have fallen over, always check for any damage. If ladders have been moved from one place to another, always check the feet, particularly if they have been on muddy or wet ground and are then moved to a cleaner, dryer site.

Leaning ladders

 When you perform an inspection on a leaning ladder, there are three items you should pay attention to:

  • The stiles – the vertical struts that form the frame.
  • The feet – the bottom of the stiles.
  • The rungs – the horizontal struts on which you step.

Stiles should be straight, without any bends or cracks, otherwise they may be in danger of collapsing. Feet should be in place, not damaged or worn, clean, and free from debris. Rungs should be straight, without bends or splits. All rungs should be in place, as missing rungs can destabilise ladders.

Consider fitting anti-slip rung covers if you haven’t already done so. A safety ladder will also decrease the likelihood of accidents.


You should check stepladders as thoroughly as you would a leaning ladder. In addition to the two sets of stiles and the feet you should also examine:

  • The locking bars
  • The platform
  • The treads on the rungs

If the locking bars are bent or the fixings are damaged or worn, the ladder may be unsafe and should not be used. If the treads are dirty or slippery, the stepladder may slip when climbed. A bent or damaged platform could buckle, causing a fall.

Risk assessment

Before you or your employees start any task that requires working at height, check if you can do some or all of the preparation at ground level. Once you are sure ladders are required, and have inspected them as described above, do the following:

  • Make sure you are using the right type of ladder for the job.
  • Make sure the user is properly trained and is aware of risks and health and safety regulations.
  • Follow a safe system of work, which should be detailed in your company policy or ladder safety management system.

Think of ladder safety checks as being like the inspections carried out by pilots and engineers before a plane takes off. Working with faulty or damaged equipment greatly increases the risk of accident and injury, so take the time to inspect everything before you start and you will significantly reduce the risk involved in working at height.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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