Safety Services


Ladders and Stepladders

Ladders can be a sensible and practical option for low-risk, short duration tasks. This page provides information on how to use ladders safely at UCL.

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When is a ladder the most suitable equipment? 

Ladders can be used for work at height when a risk assessment has shown that using equipment offering a higher level of fall protection (e.g. mobile access tower) is not justified because of the low-risk and short duration of use; or there are existing workplace features which cannot be altered.

A short duration is not the deciding factor when establishing whether the use of a ladder is acceptable or not – you must consider the risk first.

If you require further information on carrying out a work at height risk assessment, please visit the work at height page.

> Work at height

Who can use a ladder at work?

Those using a ladder should be competent to do so. This means they will have received instructions on how to use the equipment safely and how to identify the equipment is safe for use.

Appropriate training can ensure a person is competent to use a ladder safely. This training can take place on the job working under the supervision of someone who can perform the task safely.

Selecting the correct ladder

  • The ladder should be suitable for the intended use, i.e. not using a stepladder to lean against a surface when a leaning ladder should be used
  • Is strong and robust enough for the job, i.e. is of the correct class (e.g. class 1 industrial duty) and has a suitable safe working load for the person(s) and equipment that will be used
  • Has no visible defects. It should have a pre-use check each working day
  • Has an up-to-date record of the detailed visual inspections carried out regularly by a competent person, in accordance with manufacturers instructions
  • Has been maintained and stored in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions

Pre-use check

Each working day a ladder is used, a visual pre-use check should be conducted to ensure that there are no visible defects and it is safe for use.

The pre-use check should be carried out by the user:

  • Before using the ladder for a work task
  • After something has changed (e.g. the equipment has been dropped and/or potentially damaged)

The common defects to look for are listed below for the different ladder types. 

Leaning ladder
  • Check the stiles
    Do not use the ladder if stiles are bent or split as the ladder could collapse
  • Check the feet
    Do not use the ladder if feet are missing, worn or damaged as the ladder could slip
  • Check the rungs
    Do not use the ladder if rungs are bent, missing or loose as the ladder could become unstable
  • Check the locking bars 
    Do not use the stepladder if locking bars are bent or the fixings are worn or damaged as the ladder could collapse
  • Check the feet
    Do not use the stepladder if feet are missing, worn or damaged as the ladder could slip
  • Check the stepladder platform
    Do not use the stepladder if the platform is split or buckled, the stepladder could become unstable or collapse
  • Check the steps/treads
    Do not use the stepladder if the steps/treads are contaminated as they could be slippery
  • Check the steps for strength and stability
    Do not use the stepladder if the fixings are loose as they could collapse
  • Check the stiles
    Do not use the stepladder if stiles are bent or damaged as the ladder could buckle or collapse

Using the ladder safely

Once a pre-use check has been completed, there are simple guidelines that can be followed to minimise the risk of a fall.

Leaning ladder
  • Follow the 4 to 1 ratio ladder rule: set the base 1 foot out from the wall for every 4 feet it reaches up. This can be estimated by counting rungs, which are about one foot apart
  • Ensure the ladder is long enough or high enough for the task
  • When climbing up or down always face the ladder, use both hands and maintain 3 points of contact (2 hands and 1 foot or 1 hand and 2 feet) at all times
  • Only carry light materials and tools and do not exceed the safe working load (this should be found on the manufacturers label)
  • Avoid holding items when climbing (consider using a tool belt or a shoulder bag)
  • Don’t overreach
  • Don’t work off the top three rungs and try to make sure the ladder extends at least 1m (three rungs) above where you are working
  • Don’t try to move or extend ladders while standing on the rungs
  • Don’t stand ladders on moveable objects (e.g. pallets, bricks, tower scaffolds etc)
  • You should have a strong upper resting point (do not rest a ladder against weak upper surfaces such as plastic gutters)
  • Wherever possible, the ladder should be secured (e.g. by tying the ladder to prevent it from slipping)
  • Where you cannot maintain a handhold, other than for a brief period (e.g. to hold a nail while starting to knock it in) you will need to revisit the risk assessment and determine other measures to prevent a fall or reduce the consequences if one happened
  • Ensure all four stepladder feet are in contact with the ground and the steps are level
  • Ensure any locking devices are engaged
  • Only carry light materials and tools
  • Don't overreach
  • Don’t stand and work on the top three steps (including the very top platform of the stepladder) unless there is a suitable handhold
  • Try to position the stepladder to face the work activity and not side on
  • if the risk assessment has identified it is safer to work side on and not use an alternative means of access (e.g. in a retail stock room when you can’t engage the stepladder locks to work face on because of space restraints in narrow aisles, but you can fully lock it to work side on) then this is acceptable
  • Avoid work that imposes a side loading, such as side-on drilling through solid materials (e.g. bricks or concrete) and utilise an alternative means of safe access
  • Where side-on loadings cannot be avoided and other means of access are not suitable, you should prevent the steps from tipping over (e.g. by tying the steps)
  • Maintain three points of contact 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 (e.g. knees or torso)

Appropriate surfaces to use a ladder

  • On firm and level ground
  • On clean, solid surfaces (paving slabs, floors etc.) that are free from contamination or loose material (oil, moss, leaves, sand etc)
  • Be wary of shiny floor surfaces which can be slippery even without contamination
  • Where they will not be struck by vehicles (protect the area using suitable barriers or cones)
  • Where they will not be pushed over by other hazards such as doors or windows (secure the doors, except fire exits, and windows where possible)
  • Where pedestrians are prevented from using it, walking underneath it or being at risk because they are too near (use barriers, cones or, as a last resort, a person standing guard at the base)
  • Where it has been secured

Ladder classes

The table below details the classes of ladder and provides guidance for their use on UCL campus.

ClassificationDuty RatingLoad (Maximum and SWL)Guidance
Class 1IndustrialSWL - 130kg
Maximum load - 175kg
Built for heavy duty and frequent use, these ladders are suitable for use on UCL campus
Class EN131TradeSWL - 115kg
Maximum load - 150kg
These ladders are suitable for use for light duties on UCL campus
Class 3DomesticSWL - 95kg
Maximum load - 125kg
Lightweight ladders built for use in the home - these are not suitable for use on UCL campus

Last updated: Thursday, October 14, 2021