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13. Positioning of portable ladders

Many falls from heights result from the non-use of ladders, for example, where crates, stools or desks are used to access heights instead of properly setting up a ladder. However, each type of ladder has specific safety requirements and considerations.

Left The distance between the ladder base and the supporting structure should be about one metre for every four metres of working ladder height. Horizontal benching of ground ensures vertical alignment of ladder.

Right Unsafe arrangement of ladder, which will create instability. Base of ladder positioned too far from wall. Sudden slipping can occur.

If a ladder is used, check that:

  • the type of ladder is appropriate to the task. Do not use 'domestic' or 'home-made' ladders;
  • the ladder is in good condition. Before it is used, the ladder should be inspected for faults, such as broken rungs, rails and footing. Consult the manufacturer's checklist, if available;
  • damaged ladders are removed from service;
  • the ladder is on firm, stable and level ground;
  • the ladder is the correct height for the task to avoid reaching or stretching. Keep the body centred between side rails at all times. Never over-reach;
  • the ladder is not too close or too far from the support structure. The ratio must be one to four. For example, the distance between the ladder base and the supporting structure should be about one metre for every four metres of working ladder height. (See the diagrams on the previous page);
  • the ladder is secured against displacement (i.e. slipping or sliding) and/or there is another person holding the base of the ladder;
  • if used at a construction site, the ladder must not be suspended from a parapet hook;
  • the ladder is not placed so that the weight of the ladder and any person using the ladder is supported by the rungs. (See the diagram on the next page);
  • all the locking devices on the ladder are secure;
  • the ladder is always faced while climbing up or down;
  • materials or tools are not carried while climbing the ladder. Tools should be carried in a tool belt or side pouch;
  • only light duty work is undertaken while on the ladder, where three points of contact can be maintained and tools can be operated safely with one hand;
  • no person should stand on a ladder any higher than 900 mm from the top of the ladder;
  • no other person is allowed on the ladder at the same time;
  • slip resistant base, rungs or steps are provided;
  • slip resistant shoes are worn;
  • metal or wire bound ladders are never used close to energised power lines; nonmetallic ladders should be used instead; and
  • ladders are not used in access areas or next to doors when the work involves hot work, such as welding or oxy cutting, on scaffolding or an elevating work platform to get extra height, next to power lines, in very wet or windy conditions and next to traffic areas unless the working area is barricaded.

Step and trestle ladders

Step and trestle ladders should be used only in the fully open position. A step ladder may be used in the closed position by leaning against a support; however, care must be taken to ensure that the load is carried by the front stiles only. Alternatives to trestle ladders should be considered. There is a wide variety of working platforms now available for use in all circumstances, including small scissor lifts, light duty aluminium mobile scaffolds, boom arms and modular scaffolding.


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