Ladder Angle: What is the Rule for Safe Ladder Work?

Ladder Angle

Six feet in the air doesn’t sound very high when you’re standing on the ground. But wait until you’re on top of a ladder. It suddenly clicks just how far a six-foot fall is and how much it will hurt. So, before you climb, you need to know the ladder angle to use to maximise stability.

Our guide explains the ladder angle rule and how you can use it for different size ladders. It also outlines essential safety tips for working at height and what you need to run through when setting up a ladder safely at work or in your home.

Why You Need to Follow the Ladder Angle Rule

Using ladders at work is legal. That statement might be completely obvious to you, but there are still a number of people out there who maintain that ladder work has been outlawed in the name of health and safety.

In fact, this rumour is so widespread that almost every resource on ladder safety offered by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) starts with reassurance that, yes, ladders are legal.

But that’s not to say ladder work is uncontrolled. If you’re an employer, you have a legal duty to make ladder work safe. This duty includes:

  • Allowing the use of ladders only when the risk assessment shows they’re the safest option for working at height
  • Providing ladders that are in good condition and suitable for the work
  • Maintaining ladders in good condition
  • Instructing staff on how to use ladders safely

Workers also have a number of responsibilities when it comes to ladder work, including

  • Risk assessing any ladder work
  • Checking a ladder is in good condition before using it
  • Using a ladder only as instructed

There’s no qualification for ladder work. To use one in the workplace, you need to be competent (or supervised by someone competent). Competence is the right combination of knowledge, experience and training to do the job safely.

If you’re asking what angle a ladder should be, you might not have the competence to use one safely yet. But ladder safety is straightforward, even if it involves a bit of maths.

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.

Is the Ladder Angle Rule a Law?

The ladder angle rule is official HSE guidance. Guidance isn’t legally binding. It’s advice on how you can comply with health and safety law.

So, you won’t face any legal repercussions for ignoring the ladder angle rule. But following it is best practice and will help you fulfil your duty to make ladder work as safe as possible. And there’s really no better or easier alternative when it comes to setting up leaning ladders.

The Ladder Angle Rule

The ladder angle rule is referred to as either the 1-in-4 rule or the 75 degree angle rule. Both rules are the same, just expressed differently.

To follow the 1-in-4 rule, position your ladder 1 unit away from the wall for 4 units up.

Ladder Angle Rule

So, if the top of your ladder meets the wall at a height of 4 metres, its base should be 1 metre away from the wall.

If the top of your ladder and the wall meet at a height of 6 metres, you should position the base of the ladder 1.5 metres away from the wall.

The rule applies to any size of leaning ladder. It helps prevent the ladder from sliding out underneath you (a consequence of it being placed too far from the wall) or tipping backwards with you on it (caused by the ladder being too close to the wall).

What Angle Should a Leaning Ladder be Used At?

Following the rule should mean your ladder angle is 75 degrees (hence the alternative name). While you’re welcome to measure the angle your ladder is leaning against the wall at, it’s usually easier to think about it in terms of the 1-in-4 rule.

Position the base away from the wall at a distance of a quarter of the height where your ladder touches the wall.

Although experienced workers might feel confident judging this by eye, it’s strongly advised to double-check. If you risk it and use a ladder without measuring its position against the rule, you could be pulled up by your employer or face a serious accident.

Ladder Risk Assessment

Before using a ladder, you need to be sure it’s the safest option for the intended task. This is confirmed by your risk assessment.

There are no strict rules here. The competent person conducting the risk assessment will need to make the call. If they’re sure that other equipment won’t make the work safer or would be impractical because the task is relatively low-risk, ladders are probably the right choice.

But the HSE does set one firm rule of thumb. If the task you’re using a ladder for will take longer than 30 minutes, find another option.

Ladder Safety

When your risk assessment shows ladders are suitable, follow these guidelines to prevent accidents:

Carry out a pre-use check – Look for obvious defects and if in any doubt, compare your ladder’s condition against the manufacturer’s guidance. These checks must happen:

  • Before the ladder is used (every time)
  • At the start of the workday
  • After something happens that might compromise the ladder (such as it being dropped)

Ladders must also be regularly put through more thorough inspections under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).

Don’t overload the ladder – Refer to the manufacturer’s guidance and check that the combined weight of the person using it and anything they’re carrying is within safe limits. And as a general rule, only carry light tools and equipment when using a ladder, secured in a toolbelt.

Maintain three points of contact – You always need three points of contact with the ladder when working. Ideally, you use two feet and one hand. In situations where you need both hands (like hammering a nail), you can maintain three points using your two feet and leaning your body against the ladder. This technique should only be used for brief periods. Two feet and a hand should be the default.

Stop short of the top three rungs – Avoid work at the top three rungs of the ladder. For leaning ladders, make sure it extends at least three rungs (around 1m) above the point you’re working from.

Climb and descend safely – Face the rungs and use two hands at all times. Absolutely no sliding down.

Secure the ladder – Ensure the ladder is resting against a solid structure or wall. Secure the base with a safety device or by tying it off. This method will maximise stability when used together with the 1-in-4 rule. It’s not an excuse for ignoring the correct angle for a ladder.

Ladder Inspection Training

Workers need to know how to use a ladder safely. But no amount of competence can make an unfit ladder safe for use. If you provide employees with faulty equipment, you’ll face the consequences.

Our online Ladder Inspection Course walks you through detailed ladder inspections and explains when you need to do them. It covers the legal requirements and checks for step and leaning ladders. It also gives workers the awareness to conduct mandatory pre-use checks as well as inspections needed under PUWER. Because ladder work is illegal when the equipment’s unsafe.

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Jonathan Goby
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