MEL Health and Safety Consultants

Safe Use of Ladders & Stepladders

Practical Advice on Reducing the Risk

One third of all reported ‘fall from height’ incidents involve ladders and stepladders. On average this accounts for 14 deaths and 1200 major injuries to workers each year, many of which are caused by inappropriate or incorrect use of equipment.


You need to first assess “is this a suitable activity for using a ladder or stepladder?”


Before you begin:


Always take into account the type of work being undertaken, in what environment - i.e. ground conditions, open areas (wind), traffic routes (Mobile Elevated Work Platforms, forklifts) pedestrian routes, etc. Also a factor that needs to be considered and included in the assessment is how long the work/task being carried out going is to take.

HSE Guidance recommends that you only use a ladder or stepladder: -

  • In any one position for short duration activities.   
  • For light work (if justified in a risk assessment). 
  • When a handhold is available on the ladder or stepladder. 
  • Where you can maintain a three point contact with the ladder at the working position. (On a stepladder where a hand hold is not practicable/available a risk assessment will have to be carried out to justify whether they are safe to use or not). 
  • If suitable for the task being carried out. 
  • Never overload ladders or stepladders.  
  • Never overreach, ensuring that you keep your belt buckle/naval inside the stiles and both feet on the same rung.
  • Never work higher than three steps from the top of the ladder.

Only Class 1 & 2 ladders and stepladders to be used at work, NOT Class 3 (as these are for domestic use only).


Ensure that the ladder being used is of a suitable size for the work/task being carried out.


Only use ladders and stepladders on:

  • Firm ground or spread the load.
  • On level ground (for stepladders refer to manufacturers instructions).

Where ladders can be put, up they should be (whenever possible) placed at the correct angle of 75°

(i.e. 1 unit out for every 4 up)


Check ladders before use for visible defects, keeping a record of your inspections.


Ensure all operatives are competent, that includes providing training and instructions on the use of ladders and stepladders.


Whenever possible, replace ladders/stepladders with podium steps, scaffold towers, scaffolding, or Mobile Elevated Work Platforms.