8 Ladder Hazards Most Workers Miss

ladder hazards

The more times you do something, the safer it seems. Do something 99 times without incident, and you won’t expect the 100th to be different. The same applies to ladders at work. If you use them routinely, your awareness of ladder hazards will almost certainly slump. And this is when accidents happen.

Our guide explores eight common ladder hazards that even experienced workers miss. It’ll help reinforce ladder safety at work and prevent one of the most common workplace accidents.

What is a Hazard?

Ladders are used in almost every workplace, often without incident. Because of this, workers might confuse luck with skill and pay less attention to ladder safety hazards. But this is when accidents happen.

A hazard is any condition or action that can cause an accident or injury. Complacent (or inexperienced) workers are more likely to make unsafe choices. So, this blog is divided into ladder hazards caused by the equipment itself and those caused by user error.

Knowing about these hazards is crucial for everyone involved in ladder work. Workers need to be aware of the risks and trained to use ladders safely. Employers must ensure everyone follows the proper procedures and that ladders are regularly inspected. By spotting and dealing with these hazards, everyone can help keep the workplace safe.

Ladder Inspection Training

Our Ladder Inspection Training teaches participants how to conduct thorough and effective ladder inspections. It looks at the legal requirements, common faults, steps to inspections and actions to take if a ladder is found unsuitable or unfit for use.

Ladder Accidents

Falls from height are the leading cause of workplace fatalities, killing 40 people in 2022/23, according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics.

Although the HSE doesn’t publish specific numbers, it notes in its guide on the safe use of ladders that “many” of these fatal falls involved a ladder.

Falls from height also accounted for 8% of the 561,000 non-fatal injuries recorded over the same period. Again, the HSE doesn’t clarify how many of these injuries resulted from unsafe ladder work but available industry-specific data offers some insight. In the food and drinks industry, 40% of falls investigated by the HSE over a three-year period involved a worker falling from a ladder.

Although they aren’t all exact, these figures clearly show that ladder safety risks must be consistently identified and controlled.

Ladder Accidents

8 Ladder Hazards and How to Avoid Them

The statistics prove that ladder work is dangerous, which is why the HSE has produced extensive guidance on making it safe.

What the HSE hasn’t done is ban ladders in the workplace.

The regulator fully endorses ladders as a safe option for work at height if the conditions are right. Generally, this means using ladders for low-risk tasks that can be completed in 30 minutes by staff trained in ladder safety or supervised by someone competent.

Our guide explores eight ladder safety hazards and how to comply with the HSE’s ladder safety guidance. Understanding these common hazards and learning how to avoid them can help prevent accidents, ensure your workplace remains compliant with safety regulations and protect your team from unnecessary risks.

1. Using the Wrong Ladder

Selecting the wrong ladder is the first mistake someone might make. And, to make matters worse, trying to make up for a ladder’s shortcomings could cause further errors.

First, consider the task. Ladders are sometimes a safe option, but they shouldn’t be a first choice for work at height. Check your risk assessment and be sure there’s no safer alternative before settling on ladders as the solution.

Secondly, make sure the ladder is the right size and type. Working at the very top of a ladder is unsafe (more on this later), so be sure that your ladder is tall enough to offer a safe position from which to work.

You also need to check a ladder before every use. Compare your ladder’s condition and function to the manufacturer’s guidance to ensure it’s in safe condition. Also, check for any faults or defects that may pose a hazard.

2. Setting Up on Uneven Ground

Everyone knows that ladders should be set up on firm, even ground. However, knowing and doing can be two different things. Sometimes, in the rush to get a job done, workers might set up a ladder on uneven or unstable ground, thinking it will be fine just this once. This is a serious ladder safety hazard.

If the ground isn’t level, the ladder can shift or tip over, leading to a fall. To avoid this, always ensure the ground is flat and stable. If the surface is uneven, use ladder levelling devices or find a different spot to set up the ladder. Never place the ladder on makeshift levellers to try and balance it out.

And if your ladder isn’t tall enough, get a taller ladder. Boosting a ladder’s height by placing it on another object increases the risk of accidents.

3. Placing a Ladder at an Unsafe Angle

Placing a ladder at the wrong angle is another consequence of choosing the wrong equipment. If a ladder is too short for a task, pushing it closer to the wall to reach a higher position can be tempting. But doing this is unsafe.

All leaning ladders should be set up using the 1-in-4 rule. This rule states that ladders need to be placed 1 unit out from the wall for every 4 units up.

For example, if your ladder meets the wall at a height of 4 metres, its base should be 1 metre from the wall. If it’s leaning at a height of 8 metres, the safe position for its base should be 2 metres from the wall.

Following this rule should give you a ladder angle of 75 degrees – the safest position. You can also use this measurement to check a ladder is positioned safely, but it’s generally easier to use the 1-in-4 rule than to calculate the angle.

Ensuring the correct angle prevents the ladder from sliding out at the base or tipping backwards, significantly reducing the risk of accidents.

4. Working from the Top Rung

Even if a ladder is set up correctly, there’s no guarantee of safety if workers don’t follow best practices. A common issue is thinking every part of a ladder is safe to work from. This isn’t true.

You should never work from the top rung of a leaning ladder. In fact, the HSE recommends staying below the top three rungs of a leaning ladder and the top three steps of a stepladder. Working from these positions is too unstable and robs you of handholds, making it impossible to maintain three points of contact with the ladder.

Always position yourself lower on the ladder to ensure a stable and secure working position.

5. Losing Three Points of Contact

One essential ladder safety tip is maintaining three points of contact at all times when climbing a ladder. You should alternate between two hands and one foot and one hand and two feet. Never rush or try to skip rungs, as this increases the likelihood of losing contact with the ladder.

Once you’ve scaled the ladder, keeping up three points of contact while working is critical. You can do this by:

  • Keeping two feet and one hand on the ladder at all times (the safest option)
  • Keeping two feet and leaning your body against the ladder (less safe, but appropriate for brief tasks that require two hands)
ladder points of contact

6. Overreaching

It’s possible to take both hands off the ladder momentarily if it’s necessary for the task you’re completing.

However, when your hands are off the ladder, you’re more likely to overreach. Sometimes without realising it. Shifting your centre of gravity away from the ladder this way could cause it to tip.

To avoid overreaching, keep your belt buckle between the ladder’s stiles at all times. If you’re not wearing a belt, use your navel as a reference point. This simple rule helps ensure you don’t lean too far to one side.

If you find yourself needing to reach further than this, climb down and reposition the ladder closer to your work area. It may seem like a hassle, but it’s much safer than risking a fall.

7. Climbing while Carrying

It’s unsafe to use ladders for manual handling tasks. Carrying bulky objects up to high shelves cannot be done safely by climbing a ladder. You’ll need to arrange safer options, such as using a forklift or mobile stairs.

Even carrying light objects is a ladder safety hazard. You need your hands free to safely climb and stabilise yourself while working at height. So, any gear you need is best secured to a tool belt.

If you forget something, you need to climb down and get it. Having a colleague throw something up to you isn’t safe, as it puts you at risk of losing your balance as you reach for the item or creates a hazardous falling object should you miss.

Always plan ahead and use appropriate tools and equipment to minimise the need to carry items while climbing ladders.

8. Ignoring Ladder Inspections

No matter how carefully you use a ladder, ensuring it’s in good condition is crucial. Regular inspections identify any damage or wear that could compromise a ladder’s safety, so ignoring them is a significant risk.

As work equipment, ladders are subject to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER). Under PUWER, ladders must be thoroughly inspected by a competent person at appropriate intervals or after an incident, such as the ladder being dropped or transported.

Inspections are necessary to identify and address any issues before they lead to an accident.

Ladder Inspection Training

These ladder safety tips aren’t obscure. You and your team are probably already aware of them, even if you sometimes need to be reminded of them. (By a guide, preferably, and not an accident.)

But any climb is unsafe if the ladder isn’t up to standard. You must regularly inspect your ladders to ensure they’re in efficient working order and compliant with regulations.

Our online Ladder Inspection Training course covers checkpoints for all types of ladders and details the inspection procedures, ensuring that you know exactly what to look for. Accredited by the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM), it’ll help you identify potential ladder hazards and maintain compliance with safety regulations.

The course also comes with access to an inspection e-checklist. This digital checklist helps ensure that every inspection is thorough and recorded, making it easy to track and verify the safety of your ladders.

About the author(s)

Authors Photo
Jonathan Goby
Share with others
You might also like