Return to How To's & Project Ideas

A Guide to Ladders & Ladder Safety

Print this article Share

We’ve consulted our experts to compile this handy two-in-one resource for you. This ladder buying guide and collection of ladder safety tips is a must read for any professional tradespeople and DIY enthusiasts.

Ladder Type

Attic ladders, extension ladders, step ladders and even step stools; there is a type of ladder to meet every need.

An attic ladder (also known as a loft ladder) attaches to your attic opening to provide convenient fold-down access to your attic. The compact design makes them suitable for use in a space of any size.

Extension ladders are the choice of professional tradespeople, offering superior versatility and extendable reach to get every job done comfortably. Make it longer when you need it and collapse it again for easy storage and transport. This type of ladder needs to be leaned on something for support.

Step ladders don’t need to be leaned on anything, they’re self-supporting. The ideal choice for jobs inside the home like painting and decorating, their large, wide steps make them safe and easy to use. They often feature a handy platform near the top for holding your bucket of paint or other equipment. You can fold them flat when they’re not in use.

Finally the smallest ladder type, step stools simply give you that small bit of extra height to reach top shelves, light bulbs, etc. Usually with just one or two steps, the step stool also functions as a seat and is usually foldable for compact storage.

Ladder Material

When choosing a ladder, you need to decide what material will best suit your needs: steel, aluminium, wood or fibreglass.

If you are working with electricity or power tools, clean and dry wooden or fibreglass ladders are better than steel or aluminium, as they do not conduct electricity thus reducing the risk of electric shock. However, both wood and fibreglass are less hardwearing and do not withstand long-term exposure to the elements as well as steel and aluminium do.

Wooden ladders are the most affordable followed closely by aluminium. Aluminium ladders are lightweight and so are suited to use on the go. The light weight also makes it the most common choice of material for the longest extension ladders, which otherwise would be too heavy to carry.

Steel is the most versatile ladder material, offering the most benefits while meeting an affordable price point. Its only disadvantage is that it is unsafe to use around electricity, including power tools.

Ladder Height

Consider the types of tasks you will be undertaking with your ladder, and what height you will need to reach. This will determine the size you require. Bear in mind that over-stretching is one of the most common causes of ladders falling, so you should make sure your ladder is tall enough.

As a general rule, step ladders can be about half the height of the height you want to reach, for example when trying to reach an 8ft height, you would need a 4ft step ladder. Extension ladders need to be taller than the height you are trying to reach, for example.

Ladder Safety Tips

  • Before every use, visually check the ladder for any signs of wear and tear, defects, and loose or missing parts that could compromise its safety. Check the anti-slip grips on the feet are still fully intact.
  • Never use an opaque wood treatment on your wooden ladder as it may hide defects like cracks, which would otherwise warn you of the danger of continuing to use the ladder.
  • Do not use steel or aluminium ladders when working with power tools or any other electricity as they conduct electricity and this poses a risk of electric shock.
  • Place a ladder on sturdy and solid ground where it will not rock from side to side and potentially fall over with the movement of your weight. The rungs should be completely horizontal during use.
  • For ladders which need to be leaned on something for support such as an extension ladder, choose the support carefully as it will need to safely bear your weight. If it looks unstable or weak do not lean your ladder against it; it would be risking property damage and injury to yourself and possibly others.
  • Check that the maximum weight your ladder can bear (the load capacity) is more than the weight of you and any equipment you will be using while on the ladder. You will find this information on the label.
  • Always face the ladder and keep both feet and at least one hand on it while mounting and dismounting.
  • Adhere to warning stickers on your ladder, such as which rungs are not to be stood on. Usually this is the first step from the top on a step ladder, and the first four rungs from the top on an extension ladder.
  • Extension ladders should be placed at an angle of approximately 75 degrees, or one metre out for every four metres up.
  • Do not use a ladder within six metres of a live overhead power line.

Ladder Maintenance Tips

  • Lubricate any moving parts and hinges on your ladder periodically.
  • Apply a clear rust proofer to any metal parts which are not rust proof.
  • Keep your ladder clean and dry to prevent corrosion and slipping.

You might also be interested in