Ladder safety

Where working at height cannot be eliminated, using a ladder is the least preferred and usually the least safe option. Always determine if a ladder is the best and safest means of carrying out the activity.

Ladders in the workplace

Recent investigations into construction falls from height in New Zealand show that more than 50% of these falls are from less than 3m, and around 70% of falls are from ladders and roofs.

Ladders can be a useful tool. However, a risk assessment will help you check first if it is the most appropriate tool, or can the job be done with a safer piece of equipment such as a scaffold or lifting device.
Sensible ladder selection, ladder use education and ladder maintenance are crucial elements of a comprehensive ladder safety program at the University of Auckland.

When choosing a ladder, consider the task at hand, the required height, the working environment, and any specific safety requirements. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines and safety recommendations for each type of ladder, and check compliance with local safety regulations and standards.

There is NO safe height for using a ladder, and it is recommended that you consider a working from heights management plan if you are working over 2m. This would likely include things like ladder tie off, supervision and assistance, area barricading, ladder footing, tool tethering. 

If you need a small step up (say under 1m), a decent platform like a box step platform, or a small platform ladder (with a rail) is much safer than a 2 or 3 step A frame ladder (see below). There are many recorded injuries from falls below one metre from a basic 2-3 step A-frame.

Mandatory requirements when selecting a ladder for use at the University of Auckland

  • Ladders shall be of industrial rating (minimum 120kg) and meet, or exceed, the requirements of the relevant AS/NZS 1892 Portable ladders standard
  • Ladders shall be purchased from approved UoA vendors
  • Ladders should be identifiable as to the owner (School, Faculty, Service Division, etc) and clearly state the duty/load ratings and date/person who last inspected it

Ladder inspections

As well as a quick visual check before each use, it is recommended that all ladders undergo a more comprehensive, and documented inspection every 3 to 6 months (6 months maximum) depending on the use they get.

For a quick and regular inspection method for your ladder, contact your HSW Advisor or Manager and they will provide you with an identifier and sticker to use on your ladder.

You, or someone from your team can regularly use the ladder inspection form to quickly go through the activities to ensure it is safe to use. The sticker also contains a QR code that will take a user straight to the form, which takes around 5 minutes to complete (this form is available to staff only).

Ladder types

A Frame (Step ladders)

  • Self-supporting with a hinged design
  • Available in various heights (including adjustable height)

Platform step ladders

  • Similar to A Frame step ladders but with a larger platform at the top
  • Offers a more stable and comfortable working surface.The most preferred and safest ladder type (if appropriate height/model selected for the task)

Extension ladders

  • Usually adjustable in length, typically with two or more sections (unless it is a fixed length/straight ladder)
  • Used for reaching higher areas
  • Must be leaned against a stable surface for support

Fixed ladders

  • Any location that is accessed by a fixed ladder, such as a bolted down platform ladder, attic stair, fixed straight ladder should also be regularly checked for damage/wear, and maintained as per other portable ladders
  • Having a fixed ladder is almost always a better solution than regularly using a portable ladder, but checks on the suitability and safety of the ladder should still be a regular occurrence

Specialist ladders

There are additional subtypes, or manufacturing properties of ladders for specific purposes

  • Straight Ladders are the simplest type of ladder being two fixed sides and fixed rungs. (They are managed as per Extension ladders).
  • Multi-Position ladders can be configured into various positions, such as A-frame, extension, or scaffolding. Versatile, but usually less reliable than a specific type due to their multi-hinge and multi-position design
  • Telescoping ladders combine the adjustable height of an extension ladder and the easy storage of a step ladder. To change the ladder height, the legs are extended to the appropriate length and retracted back when finished. Again, they are usually less reliable and have lower strength than the equivalent extension or A-Frame ladder
  • Attic Ladders are designed for accessing attics or crawl spaces. Installed as a permanent fixture with a folding or telescoping mechanism and are checked under the “fixed ladder” set
  • Non Conductive Ladders: Portable Ladders are most commonly made from aluminium, being the best trade-off of strength vs weight. However, they are regularly constructed from fiberglass (making them non-conductive and suitable for electrical work), and occasionally wood (non-conductive when dry, but much lower strength)
  • Rolling Ladders or having wheels on a ladder mean that additional checks should be regularly carried out
  • Step Platforms With any task that needs a height access of less than 1 metre, a box step (engineered plastic platform, fixed at around 3-400mm height with 500x500mm step surface) is a great solution or a short platform ladder of 2-4 steps (with handrail) can be used

Ladder use guidelines

Risk assessing your activity is important, and if a ladder is deemed necessary, set-up and safe use is crucial to prevent accidents and injuries.

Here are some guidelines and safety tips for using ladders:

  • Choose the appropriate type of ladder for the task
  • Ensure the ladder has the right height and weight capacity for the job
  • Visually inspect before use and regularly check the ladder for any damage, such as cracks, loose or missing parts, defective rungs, proper functioning of locks, hinges, and other moving parts (use the online ladder check form)
  • As minimum, tag any problematic ladders as defective, ensuring they are not used. Replace/destroy damaged ladders asap
  • Place ladders on a stable, level surface. Use leg levellers or a stable base on uneven ground. Never set up a ladder on slippery or uneven surface, and avoid using ladders in strong winds or adverse weather conditions
  • Avoid placing the ladder in front of a door that is not locked, blocked, or guarded
  • Maintain a 1:4 ratio for extension ladders (one foot away from the wall for every four feet of ladder height)
  • Do not overreach when using a ladder, reposition the ladder or use a different type instead
  • Consider the surroundings and workers/students in the work area, and isolate the ladder work where appropriate (rope, tape, cones or other methods)
  • Consider (product appropriate) wheels for larger ladders that need to be moved around a space
  • Wear appropriate footwear with slip-resistant soles when climbing
  • Consider using a tool belt, tethers, or other methods to carry tools, leaving your hands free for climbing (and ensuring tools and equipment do not fall onto others)
  • Ensure that any workers using ladders are trained on proper usage and safety
  • Report observations or concerns with ladders using the HSW reporting system


Safe working with ladders and stepladders (WorkSafe New Zealand)

Ladder Safety Brochure, Tips for using ladders safely (.pdf, ACC New Zealand)

The following ladder use and selection standards apply to New Zealand:

  • AS/NZS 1892 is the Australian/New Zealand standard for portable ladders
  • AS 1657 provides guidelines for fixed platforms, walkways, stairways, and ladders
  • ISO 14122-4 outlines safety requirements for fixed ladders
  • EAN 14183 Section 6, Specifications for Step Stools

Document Control
Version: 1.0
Last Updated: June 2024
Next Review: June 2027
Approver: Associate Director, Health Safety & Wellbeing