Safety checks that you would perform before using a step ladder.

  • Inspect new ladders promptly upon receipt.
  • Inspect ladders before each use.
  • Check the condition of ladders that have been dropped or have fallen before using them again.
  • Inspect ladders before storing to make sure they are in good condition to store, or need repair, replacement or removal from the site.

Most jurisdictions require that ladders be inspected before use. Contact the government department responsible for occupational health and safety in your area for more information.

  • missing or loose steps or rungs (they are loose if you can move them by hand)
  • damaged or worn non-slip feet
  • loose nails, screws, bolts or nuts
  • worn or loose or faulty spreaders, locks, and other metal parts in poor repair
  • rot, decay or warped rails in wooden ladders
  • cracks and exposed fibreglass in fibreglass ladders
  • cracked, split, worn or broken rails, braces, steps or rungs
  • sharp edges on rails and rungs
  • rough or splintered surfaces
  • corrosion, rust, oxidization and excessive wear, especially on treads
  • twisted or distorted rails. Check ladders for distortion by sighting along the rails. Using a twisted or bowed ladder is hazardous.
  • damage or wear on other items such as spreaders, locking devices, hinges, springs or ropes. Check that these items are working properly before using the ladder.
  • missing identification labels

  • wobble
  • loose or bent hinges and hinge spreaders
  • broken stop on a hinge spreader
  • loose pail shelf

  • loose, broken, or missing extension locks
  • defective locks that do not set properly when the ladder is extended
  • sufficient lubrication of working parts
  • defective cords, chains and ropes
  • missing or defective pads or sleeves

  • Tag any defective ladders and take them out of service.
  • Clean fibreglass ladders every three months. Spray lightly with a clear lacquer or paste wax.
  • Protect wooden ladders with a clear sealer or wood preservative.
  • Replace worn or frayed ropes on extension ladders.
  • Lubricate pulleys on extension ladders regularly.
  • Tag and take out of service any ladder that is has defects, or is broken or bent. Destroy ladders that cannot be repaired safely by a person authorized by the manufacturer. Ladders should be destroyed in a way that makes them useless.

  • Do not make temporary or makeshift repairs.
  • Do not try to straighten or use bent or bowed ladders.

Document last updated on August 25, 2021

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Safety checks that you would perform before using a step ladder.
  1. HSE
  2. Guidance
  3. Topics
  4. Working at height
  5. Safe use of ladders and stepladders

Before using a ladder, you should have access to user instructions from the manufacturer in case you need to refer to them.

You should always carry out a ‘pre-use’ check to spot any obvious visual defects to make sure the ladder is safe to use.

A pre-use check should be carried out:

  • by the person using the ladder
  • at the beginning of the working day
  • after something has changed, eg a ladder has been dropped or moved from a dirty area to a clean area (check the state or condition of the feet)

The check should include:

  • the stiles – make sure they are not bent or damaged, as the ladder could buckle or collapse
  • the feet – if they are missing, worn or damaged the ladder could slip. Also check the ladder feet when moving from soft/dirty ground (eg dug soil, loose sand/stone, a dirty workshop) to a smooth, solid surface (eg paving slabs), to make sure the actual feet and not the dirt (eg soil, chippings or embedded stones) are making contact with the ground
  • the rungs – if they are bent, worn, missing or loose, the ladder could fail
  • any locking mechanism – does the mechanism work properly? Are components or fixings bent, worn or damaged? If so, the ladder could collapse. Ensure any locking bars are fully engaged
  • the stepladder platform – if it is split or buckled, the ladder could become unstable or collapse
  • the steps or treads on stepladders – if they are contaminated, they could be slippery; if the fixings are loose on the steps, they could collapse

If you spot any of the above defects, do not use the ladder and tell the person in charge of the work.

Updated 2022-03-24

Before work commences, all physical locations and tasks that may present the risk of a fall need to be identified. This includes access to the areas where tasks are to be performed. Each task needs to be examined to determine whether there is a risk of falling and how that risk can be eliminated or minimised.

Tasks that need particular attention are those carried out using equipment to work at the elevated level by means of a portable ladder.

  • Know the regulations that apply to ladders in your work.
  • Choose the type of ladder appropriate for the task.
  • Check that the ladder is in good condition.
  • Store, transport and erect the ladder carefully.
  • Place the ladder in a safe working position.
  • Adopt correct working procedure on the ladder.

A portable ladder may only be used if it is appropriate for the task, including consideration of the duration of the task, and it is set up in the correct manner. The employer must also provide any workers with such information, training and instruction as is necessary to enable them to perform the task with this equipment in a safe manner.

  • Use of ladders that comply with Australian Standards AS/NZS 1892-2000 Portable Ladders.
  • Ladders that have been well maintained and selected specifically for the task to be performed. Maintenance means daily examination of ladders searching for broken, loose or missing rungs or damaged side rails, loose screws, bolts or hinges. It includes examination of foot plates for cracks, rust or cracked welds.
  • Ladders to be examined before each use, especially after mishaps, drops and impacts.
  • Ground conditions that enable ladders to be erected safely. This means that the ground surface is free from holes and the surface is able to support a fully laden ladder.
  • All workers are to be instructed in the safe use of ladders which would include ladder set up, working only in safe reach area from ladder (a guide is to keep your belt buckle within the side rails of the ladder, use only rungs below top two, and one person only on a ladder).
  • When ascending or descending the ladder always use three points of contact on ladder.
  • Make sure workers use only well fitting, non-slip secure footwear and that consideration is given to maintaining the grip of footwear and ladders.
  • Regular supervision that makes sure that workers are working according to the safe work procedure and that ladders are in suitable condition. As a guide this supervision should occur at least once a day.

The Work Health and Safety (Preventing Falls in Housing Construction Code of Practice) Approval 2012 requires employers to:

  • Identify any task that an employee or contractor is required to undertake involving a fall hazard.
  • Assess the risk of a fall taking into account the nature and duration of the task, the physical surroundings in which the task is to be performed and the conditions during which the task is to be performed.
  • Eliminate the risk or if that is not practicable reduce the risk so far as is practicable by arranging for the task to be undertaken from the ground or from a solid construction. If that is not practicable using a:
    • passive fall prevention device for example a temporary work platform, roof safety mesh or guard-railing;
    • work positioning system for example an industrial rope access system, travel restraint or drainers hoist;
    • fall injury prevention system such as a safety net, catch platform or a harness system; or,
    • fixed or portable ladder or implementing an administrative control such as work procedures or by using a combination of the above control measures.
  • Make sure that any solution (risk control) that is used or is available for use to control the risk of a fall is properly maintained.
  • Provide any employees or contractors who are required to undertake any task identified as involving a fall hazard with such information, instruction and training as is necessary to enable them to perform their work in a safe manner.

Portable ladders

People using ladders should not:

  • handle or use ladders where it is possible for the worker or the ladder to make contact with power lines;
  • use metal or metal reinforced ladders when working on live electrical installations;
  • set up the ladder in places, such as driveways and doorways, where a person or vehicle could hit it (if necessary, erect a barrier or lock the door shut;
  • use a stepladder near the edge of an open floor, penetration, or on scaffolding to gain extra height;
  • over-reach (the worker’s belt buckle should remain within the ladder stiles throughout the work);
  • use any power (air, hydraulic, electric or battery) equipment or tools specifically designed to be operated with two hands and which may require the operator to brace themselves against the high level of torque exerted by the tool;
  • carry out work such as arc welding or oxy cutting unless step platforms or other temporary work platforms are not feasible and the task is of short duration and a safe work procedure is followed;
  • use tools requiring the use of both hands and dynamic movement such as axes and crowbars;
  • use tools which require a high degree of leverage type force which, if released, may cause the user to over balance or fall from the ladder, such as stillsons or pinch bars;
  • work over other people; and,
  • allow anyone else to be on the ladder at the same time.

Except where additional and appropriate fall protection equipment is used in conjunction with the ladder, any person using a ladder should not:

  • face away from the ladder when going up or down, or when working from it;
  • stand on a rung closer than 900 millimetres to the top of a single or extension ladder; and,
  • stand higher than the second tread below the top plate of any stepladder.

A ladder must be set up on a surface that is solid, stable and secure. It must also be set up to prevent it from slipping.

Ladders should be used primarily as a means of access to or egress from a work area. They should only be used as a work platform if:

  • other methods of working at the required height are not reasonably practicable; and,
  • a risk assessment is carried out to minimise the risks associated with the work to be done from the ladder.

Ladders should only be used as a means of gaining access or for performing simple operations. Elevated work platforms, mobile platforms or scaffolding should be used for heavy work or work over extended periods. Ladders are available in numerous designs, sizes and construction material.

Selecting a ladder

Ladders must be correctly selected for the task to be undertaken. In doing this, the duration of the task, the physical surroundings of where the task is to be undertaken and the prevailing weather conditions must be taken into consideration. For example, metal ladders or metal reinforced ladders should not be used for live electrical work.

Typically, ladder use for construction work involves repetitive, high volume use and handling, requiring them to be of robust design and construction. Ladders used for construction work should be industrial grade, not domestic grade.

Any ladder used at a workplace must be set up on a surface that is solid and stable, and set up so as to prevent the ladder from slipping. Slipping of ladders can be prevented by:

  • placing single and extension ladders at a slope of 4 to 1, and setting up stepladders in the fully opened position; and,
  • securing single and extension ladders at both the top and bottom.

Self-supporting step ladders are suitable in places where there is no support adjacent to the working point.

Select a ladder of sufficient height for you to reach the work without standing above the second step from the top.

There must be sufficient space to use the step ladder in a fully spread position.

Non-self-supporting ladders are suitable where there is a suitable support adjacent to the working or access point.

Select a ladder of sufficient length so that:

  • it can be used at a slope no greater than 4 in 1;
  • it extends at least 1 metre above the platform to be reached; or,
  • you can stand at least 1 metre from the top of the ladder when in the working position and the slope/pitch needs to be taken account of when accessing the roof.

If ladders meeting the above conditions cannot be obtained, then some form of mobile platform or scaffold must be used.

Select the right ladder for the job. If you’re washing windows inside the home, choose a step stool or utility ladder, they’re often used when working at low or medium heights. Extension ladders are ideal for use outdoors to reach high places like cleaning the gutters on the roof of a house.

Move materials with caution when on the ladder. When you are cleaning out the garage or closet, be careful pushing or pulling anything from shelves while standing on a ladder. You could lose your balance and fall off.

Always reposition the ladder closer to the work. Over reaching or leaning far to one side when you’re on the ladder could make you lose your balance and fall.

Be careful when climbing; get help if you need it. Be safe, ask someone to hold the ladder while you climb. Stay in the centre of the ladder as you climb, and always hold the side rails with both hands.

Inspecting ladders

Ladders should be maintained in good condition, clean and free from splinters. Rung and tread joints should be tight and fittings should be securely attached.

Pulleys should be lubricated and all moving parts should operate freely without bending, or undue play. Frayed or worn ropes should be replaced. Before you use any ladder, check that it is free from defects as follows:

  • Loose steps or rungs that can be moved by hand.
  • Slippery steps or rungs.
  • Cracks or splits in steps, rungs or stiles.
  • Splinters or burrs on the steps, rungs or stiles.
  • Loose screws, nails, bolts or other metal parts.
  • Damaged or missing ties.
  • Uneven footings, or damaged, or worn non-slip bases.
  • Check longitudinal rigidity as there should be no longitudinal play.

Inspect step ladders for defects such as:

  • Loose hinge bolts.
  • Ineffective spreaders.
  • Wobbly ladder from side strain.

Extension ladders must also be checked for defects such as:

  • Defective clutches, stops, guide irons or pulleys.
  • Deterioration of rope from wear, or exposure to acid or other destructive agents.

Ladders may be treated with a protective coat of clear finish. They should never be painted as this may hide defects.

Carrying ladders

All ladders that are 2 metres and over in length should have their point of balance marked around both sides with a 25 millimetre band of yellow paint or a paint that stands out. In the case of extension ladders, the point of balance in the fully closed position should be marked on all styles.

To carry ladders between 2.5 metres and 5 metres by yourself:

  • Lift one end and move along until the ladder is evenly balanced.
  • Carry the ladder with one hand and control the balance and direction with the other hand.

To carry a short ladder, lift it all at the mid-point. Tilt the front up and steady it with the other hand. Grip it so the lower stile just clears the ground & watch for overhead obstructions as you go.

Take care to control a ladder being carried, raised or lowered so that it does not injure your fellow workers or damage equipment. Take extra care when it is windy.

Any wooden ladder longer than 5 metres should be carried by two persons.

Any fibreglass ladder longer than 7 metres should be carried by two persons.

When a long ladder is to be carried by two persons:

  • They should carry the ladder on the same shoulder.
  • Both should be facing the same way.
  • Walk in step with each other.

Long objects including ladders, may be carried near live electrical apparatus provided that they carry it in a horizontal position and preferably by two persons. They must not be carried at or above shoulder level.

Erecting ladders

Short, light ladders can be lifted directly into position. Check that there is a safe, firm footing before erecting any ladder.

Two people are required to erect long and heavy ladders and should proceed as follows:

  • Place ladder on ground at right angles to the wall or support.
  • Have the feet about ¼ of the length of the ladder from the wall.
  • Check that the ladder can be raised without striking any obstruction.
  • One person must firmly grasp the stiles of the ladder while steadying the ladder stile ends on the ground with his feet.
  • The other person lifts the far end of the ladder above his head and walks slowly forward, lifting hand by hand.
  • The person at the foot of the ladder must hold the foot down firmly to stop it lifting as the other person passes the centre of gravity of the ladder.
  • Both steady the ladder as it comes vertical and lower it gently against the wall.
  • Carefully adjust the position of the ladder until it is correct.
  • Check that the footing is firm and level.

Every ladder should be placed on a firm, level surface. The ground may be very bumpy because of the freezing and thawing during the winter. There also could be soft, muddy spots. Never place a ladder on ground that is uneven. The same is true for uneven flooring. And, remember to always engage the ladder locks or braces before you climb.

  • One person must hold the foot firmly while the other climbs.
  • The person behind the ladder steadies it in the near vertical position with the heel of his hands firmly placed against the ladder rungs.
  • Before extending the ladder, make sure there are no obstructions in the path of the ladder head.
  • Keep fingers clear of the rungs and hands well away from the path of clutch and lower guides.
  • The other uses the rope to haul the upper section to the required height.
  • Make sure that the clutch or extension lock is securely in position.
  • Lower the ladder gently against the wall.
  • Check that the position is correct, the footing is sound and that the slope is no greater than 4 in 1.

On a windy day, throw a rope over a suitable support and attach it to the head of the ladder using the handling line as shown to raise the ladder with safety.

Closing extension ladder

  • Pull the ladder almost vertical.
  • Use the rope to release the extension lock.
  • Lower the upper part of the ladder.

Lowering ladders

  • Check that the area is clear for lowering and warn others nearby.
  • Lower the ladder carefully in the reverse of the raising procedure.
  • Never drop the ladders

Storing ladders

Most ladders remain on the back of vehicles. However, if a ladder is to be stored inside, please observe the following:

  • Make the storage area easily accessible so that the ladders can be withdrawn safely.
  • Take care in removing and returning ladders from storage. Ladders stored in a horizontal position should be supported at a sufficient number of points throughout their length to prevent sagging or warping.
  • Ladder locks, wheels and pulleys should be lubricated periodically.

Safe placement of ladders

  • Clean up wet or oily floors before erecting a ladder.
  • Never place a ladder in front of a doorway, unless the door is blocked open or locked closed, or a person is standing guard at the foot of the ladder.
  • Check that the footing is secure.
  • Never use any makeshift foundation such as drums, boxes or blocks to get extra height.
  • Lash the foot of the ladder in position if there is no one to hold it.
  • Check that the support for the top of the ladder is secure.
  • Never place the top close to live electrical wiring or against any operational piping (steam, chemical, sprinkler system etc where damage may be done).
  • If a ladder is to be placed against framing or against brittle material such as asbestos cement, secure a board across the top of the stiles at the top to distribute the load.
  • If a ladder is to be placed against a pole, it should have a suitable strap or chain at the top.
  • If the ladder is to be in use for some time, the top should be lashed in position. If not, the person at the bottom must remain to secure the ladder until the job is completed.
  • Do not leave ladders unattended, especially outdoors or where anyone else could possibly climb the ladder.

Working from a ladder

Do not use a ladder as a seat between tasks. You might want to take a break from your chores, but never use a step ladder’s top or pail shelf as a seat. It is not designed to carry your weight for extended periods of time.

  • Employees climbing or descending a ladder should always face the ladder and use both hands on the stiles.
  • All tools should be secured.
  • Note the position of feet when climbing.
  • Make sure boots soles are free from mud or grease.
  • Make sure of firm level footing.
  • If the task is out of reach, get down and shift the ladder.

When ascending or descending the ladder:

  • Move with a smooth careful action to avoid swaying or bouncing the ladder.
  • Hold on with both hands.
  • Do not carry any tools or materials in your hands.
  • Do not climb too high.
  • Never slide down a ladder.

When working on the ladder:

  • Make sure any tools you carry in pockets or pouches are secure.
  • Do not leave small tools or equipment on the top of step ladders.

Safety ladder shoes

These self-adjusting shoes allow a ladder to stand at any angle. Non-slip neoprene soles grip wet and slippery surfaces. The shoes can be fitted to any ladder.

What to do if you fall

  • Calmly assess the situation, and determine if you are hurt.
  • Get up slowly.
  • If you feel that an injury has occurred which prevents standing or walking, don’t panic. Call for assistance. If the injury is serious, call 000.

If you are not injured, rest awhile and regain your composure before climbing again.

Use the correct ladder

Use a ladder of proper length to reach the working height you need. Inside a house, that probably means a low stepladder; outside, you may need a taller stepladder, and for some projects, an even taller single or extension ladder. Use a ladder according to use and working load (the combined weight of the climber and the load being carried).

Maximum ladder lengths

Maximum ladder lengths listed in AS/NZS 1892:1996 parts 1 and 3, and AS 1892:1992 part 2 are:

Construction materialSingleExtensionStepladderTrestle
Metal and reinforced plastic 9 metres industrial
5 metres domestic
15 metres industrai
7 metres domestic
6.1 mteres industrial
2.4 metres domstic
5 metres
Timber runged 9.2metres 15.3 metres 5.5 metres industrial2.4 metres domestic

5.5 metres platform

5.1 mtres

Domestic ladders (used by a householder for maintenance and repairs carried out by themselves around their own dwelling) must have a minimum load rating of 100 kilograms.

Industrial ladders (any ladder other than a domestic ladder) must have a minimum load rating of 120 kilograms.

Domestic ladders should not be used in an industrial (non-domestic) environment.