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Last updated: 01.09.2021
  • When standing on a ladder, do not work for more than 30 minutes at a time or more than a third of the working day.
  • When choosing measures to prevent falls from a height, guards and safety nets must be preferred to personal protective equipment.
  • Before using the lifting device and at the beginning of each work shift, make sure that the controls and safety devices are working.

Using the ladder

Before using a ladder, consider whether it is the only possible work equipment for working at a height. The usual use of a ladder is to be an aid in moving from one level ground to another. Ladders may be used as a place of work in temporary work at a height only in exceptional cases where the use of safer work equipment is not justified, whether due to low risk, short periods of use or local conditions which cannot be changed by the employer.

Before using the ladder, look for pictures (pictograms) on the ladder and follow the instructions on them. For example, information about the load the ladder is able to carry.

There is no direct ban on the use of self-made ladders, but they should be avoided. Usually, the manufacturers of such a ladder are not able to perform a strength calculation and therefore cannot be sure about the ladder’s durability. Also, the fixtures of self-made wooden ladders have a tendency to unfasten. If cracks are visible at the connections of the ladder, it must not be used.

The material and shape of the ladder end must be chosen depending on the supporting surface. For example, when working outdoors in winter, use sharp tips on the ladder legs.


Ladder installation

The ladder must be installed in such a way that it is securely fastened. The ladder must stand on a solid, suitably sized stationary base so that the rungs remain horizontal. If the support surface is slippery (wet, oily, icy, sandy, covered in debris, greasy, etc.), it must be cleaned before setting up the ladder.

It is forbidden to place random objects (stones, pieces of boarding, etc.) under the ends of the ladder.

There must be sufficient free space around the ladder so that workers can climb up and down the ladder safely and without tripping.

If it is necessary to place a ladder in the path of people or vehicles, appropriate measures must be taken to prevent the ladder from moving unintentionally, such as fencing, marking, signs, etc.

If the ladder is set up in front of a doorway or aisle, additional precautions must be taken (e.g. locking the door, closing the aisle).

The folding ladder must be prevented from slipping by securing the top or bottom of the ladder, by using anti-slip devices or other solutions. A lockable multi-part ladder and an extension ladder must be used in such a way that the different parts cannot move relative to each other. The movable ladder must be locked in a stationary position before use. Individual ladders must not be tied, glued or connected with screws or nails, except as provided in the operating instructions.

It is recommended to install the ladder so that there is a 75-degree angle between the ground and the ladder. This angle is reached when a ladder supported at a height of four metres is placed one metre away from the supporting surface. A ladder mounted at an angle of 75 degrees is the most comfortable to work with and the easiest to avoid losing balance.

The upper end of the ladder must not be supported against an uneven or breakable surface, nor against a surface with a very small contact surface with a low friction coefficient with the ladder, for example against a rain deflector.


Using the ladder

Shoes with non-slip soles must be used to prevent falls. Care must be taken to ensure that the worker's shoes and the ladder rungs are not oily, covered in paint, or wet. Sliding on the ladder steps can be prevented by using special non-slip and removable step covers.

The ladder must be used in such a way that the worker can hold on to it at all times and rest on it securely, even if something is being carried while on the ladder. It is preferred that the worker can lean on at least three points, for example with two legs and one hand, when working or moving on the ladder. To avoid losing your balance, keep your body between the rungs throughout your work and do not tilt your weight to one side.

When standing on a ladder, the use of hand tools and the handling of weights must be avoided.

Access ladders must be long enough to extend at least one metre above the access level, unless the ladder is stationary.

When moving on a ladder, always face the ladder.

In the lateral direction, do not extend beyond the length of the arm (the ladder must be re-positioned if necessary).

When standing on a ladder, do not work for more than 30 minutes at a time or more than a third of the working day.

When working on a ladder, it is forbidden to stand higher than the third rung or step from above. If the ladder manufacturer has painted one of the upper rungs red, do not move above it. As a general rule, working on a ladder is not allowed higher than five metres above the ground. Stationary vertical ladders must have a support arch guarding from a fall if the height of the ladder is more than three metres.

 If the ground below the ladder is slippery (wet, oily, icy, sandy, covered in debris), it must be cleaned before erecting the ladder.

Technical condition and maintenance of ladders

Ladder elements must not be cracked or deformed. The locking mechanisms of telescoping ladders must work properly.

Standing on a ladder with more than one person at a time causes instability on the ladder. Therefore, it is not advisable to use the ladder for multiple people at the same time.

Periodic inspections of ladders used for temporary work at a height (work carried out at least two metres above the ground) must be carried out at least once a month by a competent person appointed by the employer.

A report shall be prepared on the inspection, in which the persons who participated in the inspection, the time and result of the inspection and proposals for possible amendments shall be registered. Defects found during the inspection must be rectified immediately or at the latest before the work equipment is used again. Periodic inspection of the ladder is necessary, as working with broken ladders can result in injury to the worker. Unfortunately, labour inspectors often see broken ladders in working environments; for example, there are no tips to prevent the ladder from slipping. If the anti-slip tips are missing, the ladder rests on a narrow aluminium strip, which is unstable and can start to slip easily.


What causes accidents when using ladders?

The causes of accidents when using ladders can be divided into five main issues – loss of ladder stability, errors in handling the ladder, slipping of the user, breakage of the ladder and dangers involving electricity. 

  • The stability of a ladder is affected by several factors. The stability of a ladder is lost if its lower end slides away from the wall or there is lateral sliding. Lateral sliding of the ladder can occur if the grip of the upper end of the ladder against the support surface is poor. For example, when supporting a ladder against a rain deflector of a roof. A similar sliding can be caused by overreaching while trying to reach away from the ladder's side posts. Generally, there are legs attached to the lower end of the ladder's side posts to prevent the ladder from slipping, or a stabiliser that prevents both slipping and tilting sideways.
  • Slipping can be caused by the condition of the ladder support surface. An accident is more likely if the support surface is unstable, soft, sloping, slippery, or, for example, used for storing tools, materials, or debris.
  • The stability of the ladder can also be reduced by strong winds or if something collides with the ladder (for example, a door near the ladder when it is opened or a forklift runs against the ladder).
  • If a ladder too short for the work to be performed is selected, the user will go to the uppermost rungs and it will no longer be possible to hold the ladder by hand. 

Example of an accident at work 

A worker installed the roof of the tent to be installed above the cast concrete floor. To do this, they supported the upper end of the ladder against a support post at the centre of the tent and about 12 cm in width. The lower part of the ladder rested on a load cover mounted on concrete, which was slippery due to snow and water. There was a combination ladder on the construction site, which can be used as a fork ladder, at the end of which an extension ladder can be installed. The worker used only the part of the ladder which is normally used as an extension ladder. This part of the ladder did not have anti-slip tips at the lower ends. The worker tightened the tent cover while standing on the ladder when suddenly the ladder moved and slipped on the load cover, lost its stability and the worker fell with the ladder onto the concrete, landing on their side and causing serious damage to their health.

  • Improper handling of the ladder can cause an accident. For example, on vertical ladders establishing a slope too small in relation to the support surface, only partially opening a self-supporting ladder or failure to fix the moving parts of the extendable ladder.
  • There is a risk of injuring bystanders or yourself due to moving or falling when the ladder is moved or erected.
  • Improper handling also involves carrying objects on a ladder in such a way that the worker cannot hold the ladder by hand. 

Example of an accident at work 

The worker had to rise four and a half metres above the ground. To do this, they used a two-part extendable ladder. As a locking device for the upper part of the ladder, the manufacturer had installed a metal hook with a spring. The spring connected to the hook was worn and did not move the hook so far that it was in a position that prevented the upper part from moving downwards. After pulling out the ladder, the worker did not make sure whether the hook was fixed to the rung. When the worker had reached a height of three metres on the ladder, the upper part of the ladder began to sink downwards. Due to the unexpected movement, the worker lost their balance, fell and broke several ribs. 

  • Unsuitable footwear and contaminated rungs or steps will cause the user to slip, trip and fall. Dangerous techniques of use (e.g. climbing two rungs at once, stepping down from the first step/rung) can also lead to an accident. 

Example of an accident at work 

To monitor the operation of the production line equipment, the worker had to rise slightly above the floor. To do this, they used a three-step ladder. When descending the ladder, they did not step onto the first step of the ladder but from the second step directly to the floor. As a result, the worker lost their balance, fell to the concrete floor and lost consciousness. The fall caused a concussion in the head, shoulder and collarbone area and resulted in incapacity for work for more than a month. 

  • Ladder breakage can be caused by deformed rungs, cracks, rust, wear or damage to plastic parts due to ultraviolet radiation. Breakage can also be caused by overloading the ladder and using it for other purposes than intended, such as using a self-supporting ladder as a leaning ladder. 

Example of an accident at work 

After loading the load on the trailer, the driver fastened the load cover with straps. To do this, they used a four-part ladder connected by hinges. Standing on the ladder two metres above the ground, the right side post of the ladder broke and the worker fell with the ladder to the gravel surface, landing with their left hand under the body, which resulted in a fracture. The ladder was rusty in several places, and rusting was likely the cause of the side post breaking. 

  • The dangers of electricity cannot be ignored either. When carrying out electrical work (e.g. troubleshooting an installation under voltage) or other work when placing ladders close to live equipment (e.g. overhead contact lines), a ladder with a non-conductive structure or cover suitable for use in such conditions must be selected. When moving the ladder, there is a risk of breaking the cover of the live parts or damaging the cable insulation, which could result in an electric shock hazard through the metal ladder. 

Example of an accident at work 

During the construction of the two-storey residential house, the outer wall was laid from the partition ceiling. Above the building, about five metres above the ground, was an uninsulated power line that was needed to supply electricity to neighbouring houses. The cable was to be moved when the outer wall of the house is stacked to a height where the necessary cables for the house under construction will be attached. At the end of the working day, the worker began to remove tools from the partition ceiling, including a two-and-a-half-metre-long metal ladder. When the worker lifted the ladder, it hit an electric wire and the worker received an electric shock. Fortunately, the accident was not fatal. The worker was in a coma for a week and recovery took months.