Ladder safety 101

Using ladders safely is crucial. A fall from high up can cause serious injury and stop you working for weeks—a financial and physical cost you don’t want to pay. In some cases, falling from a ladder can even result in loss of life. If you have staff, then that makes things even more complicated because as an employer you need to make sure you're keeping the workplace up to health & safety requirements.

For a lot of tradies, using ladders is just part of the job. There's no way around it, and that means that you need to be careful.


Top ladder safety tips from the team

#1: Use the right gear

You want nice, grippy work shoes—no leather soles—so that you have maximum traction when standing on the ladder rungs. Tightly laced shoelaces will help your shoes securely in position, and pants with legs that stop above your shoes will minimize the risk of tripping.

Two tradies working on a rooftop together
Good workwear can save you a lot of grief down the line

Gloves might be a good idea to use, depending on how sweaty you get. Grip gloves will help you firmly grasp the rails of the ladder and minimize the chance of you slipping off. Good workwear can cost a bit of cash upfront, but will save you heaps of money in the long run while also maintaining your health.

#2: Choose the right ladder

The ladder you use needs to be the right length so you can actually reach the thing you're working on. If you're inside a house, that'll mean a small stepladder but if you're working outside on something like guttering then you'll need something taller. You want to make sure that the ladder gets you to a height where you can comfortably touch the work site—stretching or leaning on top of a ladder is a recipe for disaster.

Also keep in mind that you're not supposed to step on the very top step of most ladders. You'll want to be on the second or third step from the top to maximize your safety.

#3: Take a close look at the ladder

If the ladder is damaged then do not use it. Get a new one and come back to site later. A damaged ladder is not a reliable tool, and you're really playing with fire if you step on one.

In addition to damage, you want to check that there aren't any loose screws, hinges, or rungs. We recommend that if anything is loose, you grab a new ladder because DIY repairs can potentially come undone once you step on the ladder.

The final thing to be careful about is anything covering the ladder. Oil—or any other slippery liquid—on a rung can make it a lot harder to climb and stand on a ladder safely. Make sure the ladder is totally dry and free of any debris so that you have the best grip possible.

#4: Set it up right

Make sure you set the ladder up on stable, even ground. Setting up a ladder on something like gravel isn't a great idea because the gravel under the ladder can shift out from under you and cause a health and safety incident. You'll also want to be careful about any nearby obstacles: electrical wires and trees are the most common things to watch out for when working outside.

Rickety wooden ladder against a tree
This ladder doesn't look super safe

The angle of the ladder matters, too. If you put the ladder flat up against the wall then it's going to be less stable than if the ladder is hitting the wall from an angle. A good rule of thumb for this is that for every 4 feet the ladder rises, the foot of the ladder should be 1 foot away. In centimeters, that means for every 100cm the ladder rises, it should be 25cm away from the wall. This rule of thumb will put your ladder in a position where it is most likely to be structurally sound.

#5: Double check everything

If you're using a stepladder, is it fully open? And are the spreaders or braces fully extended and locked? Are you sure the ground is nice and stable? Have you checked the maximum capacity of the ladder against how much you and your tools weigh?

Before stepping on the ladder, give everything another quick go-over. Once you're satisfied—it should be safe to start working.


Final thoughts

Tradies put in a lot of backbreaking physical labour to keep communities moving. It'd be impossible to purchase a coffee from Starbucks without all of the plumbers, builders, electricians, and handymen working behind the scenes. The trades are really important jobs—so you've got to treat yourself like you're important, too, and make sure you're working safely so that you can keep doing your job and bettering the world.

Ladder safety is just one part of staying safe while on the tools, and every tradie should have plans in place to handle the health and safety requirements of jobs they're working.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and keep earning that money.