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Ladders Guide

Ladders Guide Introduction

When it comes to reaching high places safely and effectively, at Cromwell you'll find a variety of ladders, step ladders and access equipment options tailored to your specific needs and preferences. Let's explore the range of ladders, working platforms, access ramps and other hop-up solutions, considering what factors are most important for you when making your selection.

Ladders can be a reasonably practicable option for low-risk, short-duration tasks, although they should not automatically be the first choice when working at height. If the task would require staying up a leaning ladder or stepladder for more than 30 minutes at a time, it is recommended to use alternative equipment.

A thorough risk assessment conducted by a competent person will determine the best equipment to be used for the hazard and task. Those working with and using ladders must be competent to do so. Competence can be demonstrated through a combination of training, practical and theoretical knowledge, and experience.

In addition to an inspection and maintenance regime, when working with ladders, pre-use checks must be undertaken. Read through our guidance and resources on this page, to ensure you find the right product for your needs.

Ladders are largely split into five various types, which we've outlined below.

  • Double, Single and Triple Ladders: These ladders come in various heights to accommodate different reach requirements. They offer stability and support for tasks such as painting, decorating, or accessing high shelves. Their rigid construction ensures safety during use.
  • Combination Ladders: These versatile ladders can be adjusted into multiple configurations, such as A-frame, extension, or staircase ladder. They offer flexibility for various tasks and are ideal for both indoor and outdoor use.
  • Telescopic Ladders: Compact and portable, telescopic ladders are highly adjustable and can be extended to reach different heights. Their collapsible design makes them easy to store and transport, making them suitable for professionals on the go or homeowners with limited storage space.
  • Step Ladders (Swingback and Double Sided) : Step ladders provide a stable platform for tasks at moderate heights. Swingback step ladders offer a compact design, while double-sided step ladders provide access from both sides, increasing efficiency for two-person jobs.
  • Platform Steps: These ladders feature a wide platform at the top, offering a secure and stable working surface. They are ideal for tasks that require prolonged standing, such as painting or electrical work, and provide additional safety with handrails and non-slip treads.

It's also worth mentioning work platforms, scaffolding towers and access ramps which perform slightly different functions, but may also be used in circumstances that require you to work at height.

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Types of Ladders, Steps & Access Equipment

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Overview of UK Ladders Standards & Regulations

The UK standards and regulations that reference the provision, use, and condition of ladders in relevant workplaces include:

BS EN 131

The standard BS EN 131 was set by the British Standards Institution (BSI) and is defined as applying to portable steps and ladders. The standard is designed to ensure and regulate the safety of various types of portable steps and ladders, and is broken down into seven separate parts, all of which are outlined on the BSI website. Ladders and steps tested to this standard ensure user safety and quality of the product.

As per the new BS EN 131 standard, ladders and step ladders are categorised as either 'Professional' or 'Non-Professional'. For use of ladders and step ladders in the workplace, you must select a product that is categorised as 'Professional'.

While the standards BS2037 and BS1129 have both been withdrawn, ladders originally made to these standards prior to their withdrawal can still be used (subject to following user instructions and guidance on safe use).

The 4 to 1 Rule

When using a ladder, to help make sure the ladder angle is at the safest position to work from, you should use the 4 to 1 (sometimes known as the 1-in-4) rule. This is where the ladder should be one space or unit of measurement out for every four spaces or units up (a 75° angle).

For example, if the ladder touches the wall four feet off the ground, the base of the ladder should be one foot away from the wall to ensure maximum stability.

3 Point Rule

This rule pertains to the number of contact points you should have when using a ladder. Three points of contact should be maintained at the working position. This means two feet and one hand, or when both hands need to be free for a brief period, two feet and the body supported by the stepladder.

More information around the three point rule can be found on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005

This legislation applies to employers who have a duty of care to protect their employees against the fall risks associated with working at height. Working at height is defined as 'if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury'.

For more information, you can read the robust guide put together by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)

Any ladder is classed as work equipment and therefore is also covered by the Provision and Use of Work Equipment (PUWER) Regulations 1998. PUWER requires that equipment provided for use at work is both suitable for the intended use and is inspected and maintained in a safe condition to ensure it does not deteriorate.

It is recommended that you keep a record of maintenance for high-risk equipment and although there are no legal requirements stating what they should contain, below is an example of the sort of information to include:

  • Information on the type and model of equipment
  • Any identification mark or number
  • The equipment's normal location
  • The date that the inspection was carried out
  • Who carried out the inspection
  • Any faults with the equipment
  • Any action taken
  • To whom the faults have been reported
  • The date when repairs or other necessary actions were carried out

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. It's sometimes referred to as HSWA, the HSW Act, the 1974 Act or HASAWA.

It sets out the general duties which employers have towards employees and members of the public, employees have to themselves and to each other certain self-employed have towards themselves and others.

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Considerations when choosing Ladders

When choosing a type of ladder, there are several important factors to consider before purchasing. By carefully taking into account these factors, you can be assured that the type of ladder, step or access equipment you choose will be suited for your requirements.

  • Height and Weight Capacity: Ensure the chosen product can support the user's weight plus any additional equipment or materials being carried. Select the appropriate height and reach for the intended tasks, considering factors like maximum extension for ladders, or platform height for platform steps.
  • Material: Look for sturdy and durable materials like aluminium or fibreglass for ladders and platform steps to ensure stability and longevity. Wood or timber ladders are preferable in environments where flammable liquids and gases are present. This is due to the fact that aluminium retains a static electricity charge and is therefore an explosion risk. Also, in the event of a fire, a fibreglass ladder adds to the problem and may affect a means of escape. Be sure to take into account the hazards that your work environment may pose when choosing your most suited ladder material.
  • Additional Safety Features: Some ladders will feature additional safety features, to help make the product easier and safer to use. Check for features such as non-slip treads, anti-slip feet, and secure locking mechanisms to minimise the risk of accidents or falls.
  • Ladder Dimensions: Depending on your intended application, it may be useful that your ladder or step ladder is portable. Take into account the product's weight, size, and foldability for ease of transport and storage when not in use.
  • Compliance with Standards and Regulations: Ensure the chosen product meets relevant safety standards and regulations such as BS EN 131 and that all personnel who may use the equipment and employers are aware of the regulations and standards that apply to them (The Work at Height Regulations 2005, Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974). This is especially important for ladders that will be used in commercial or industrial environments, to guarantee its suitability and reliability as well as the safety of personnel using the equipment.

By carefully evaluating these factors, you can select a ladder that best suits your needs.

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Best Practices for Ladders

Regular checks of your ladders not only help prevent accidents and injuries but also contribute to the longevity and reliability of the equipment. By identifying and addressing potential defects or wear early on, employers can mitigate the likelihood of accidents caused by structural failures or instability. Some of these checks should include:

  • Visual Inspection: This includes checking the stiles and rungs for any twists, dents, cracks or looseness, examining the ladder feet for any wear that may cause instability and inspecting the welded joints for any signs of damage.
  • Functional Inspection: This involves checking the ladder's stability when weight is applied, testing the locking mechanisms hold fast and also inspecting any ladder accessories such as levellers or stabilisers that may be used.
  • Comparing with Manufacturer's Guidelines: Check the manufacturer's user instructions on maintenance and inspection to ensure no part of the ladder is overlooked during an assessment.
  • Recording and Reporting: Record your findings and any damage or faults found, and make sure to report these to the person responsible for the repair or replacement of the ladder.
  • Review and Re-assess: Regularly review your ladder assessment and re-assess if necessary.

It may be helpful to use ladder inspection tags to signify which ladders have been inspected and when.

You should also always consider wearing relevant PPE when working at height. To learn more, view our Head Protection Guide.

To find out more about checking your ladder before use and risk assessments more generally, visit The Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Alternatively, our fully qualified Technical Safety Team are always available to support you with your safety needs and are on hand to help you choose the right level of safety equipment for you and your requirements. Ask Our Experts

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Top Ladder Brands

Bratts Ladders
GPC Industries
T.B. Davies

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Top Ladders, Steps & Access Products

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Ladders FAQs

Can ladders be stored outside?

Whilst some ladders, such as aluminium ladders, are robust and can withstand general exposure to the elements, storing your ladder outside is not recommended. To bolster product life and keep your ladder in a good and safe working condition between uses, it is recommended to store ladders in a dry, secure place, ideally off the floor.

Are ladders safe?

Under health and safety law, stepladders and ladders are not banned. However, the health and safety law does call for sensible and proportionate measures when managing risks and hazards. Ladders are primarily suited for use during low-risk, short-duration tasks, but they may not always be the best option.

Making sure that you have conducted a thorough risk assessment, that personnel are trained in the proper use of ladders, that you are using the correct equipment and that correct PPE is worn during tasks involving ladders will help to mitigate potential risks associated with ladder usage.

What is the work at height hierarchy of controls?

There are eight steps that need to be taken before working at height. The hierarchy must be followed in a systematic way and only when one level is not reasonably practicable can the next level be taken into consideration.

These steps are referred to as the hierarchy of control and are outlined on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

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Ladders Useful Resources

To ensure you have all the necessary information surrounding ladders, including the guidelines and standards that pertain to them, as well as information relating to the selection of the right ladder, we've gathered a selection of resources, to help you on your journey to selecting the most effective ladder for your needs.

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