Extension ladder safety tips and advice

Each year, over 1,200 people are seriously injured as a result of falls from ladders. Many ladder accident compensation claims arise as a result of ladder use by improperly trained staff.

Most ladder injuries involve cuts, bruises and fractures, but over fifty falls each year result in death.

Using extension ladders safely

Extension ladders are useful tools that, when used properly, can serve as a safe system for working at height.

Working at height is inherently dangerous and the safety afforded by a ladder is easily negated by inadequate training or improper use.

An employer who requires their staff to handle and use ladders should arrange for staff to receive appropriate and regular training.

Following a series of safety techniques can maximise the ladder user's safety and dramatically reduce the risk of falls.

Providing a level base

Extension ladders may tilt sideways if the feet are not level with each other, or if they are not situated on solid ground.

Where the ground beneath the ladder is uneven it may be necessary to:

  • dig out a shallow trench under the high-side foot; or 
  • purchase adjustable leg-levelling extensions that bolt onto the bottom of the ladder.

When buying ladder accessories, make sure they are appropriate for the particular type of ladder and follow the manufacturer's instructions for use.

Leaning the ladder

Once the ladder secure and level, the closed ladder may be placed against the wall and extended slowly, using a firm grip on each rung. The ladder should be extended at least one metre (three rungs) above the work area.

Once the ladder is extended to the required height, it must be set to the correct angle. This is often 75 degrees to the ground, but again the manufacturer's recommendation should be followed.

Industrial grade extension ladders have an angle indicator line marked on the stiles. For other ladders, a good way of measuring the angle is for the user to stand facing the ladder with their toes against the ladder's base and their arms extended in front of them. In this position, the palms of the hands should just reach the ladder.

Securing the feet

Clutter should be cleared from the area where the base of the ladder will be situated and the surface should be dry to reduce the risk of the ladder slipping.

The feet must now be secured to make sure the ladder cannot slip outwards. Options include:

  • on soft surfaces (soil, grass) the ladder spurs should be flipped so they butt into the ground.
  • on solid surfaces (decking) a cleat may be screwed into the ground surface behind the ladder's feet to prevent the ladder from slipping backwards.
  • on any surface, the ladder may be stabilised by rope-tying both ladder legs to an object anchored at or near the base of the wall.

Stabilising the top of the ladder

With the ladder secure at the base, the next step is to secure the ladder both at the top and across window spans to increase stability. Ties are particularly important if the ladder will be used to access a scaffolding platform or a roof.

As a general rule, the ladder should not rest against weak surfaces such as glazing or plastic guttering. Options for securing the ladder include:

  • tying it to a suitable point, making sure both stiles are tied using ropes or ladder ties. A suitable point may be a scaffolding post, a chimney or a window frame 
  • where this is not practical, securing the ladder with an effective ladder stability device recommended by the manufacturer
  • securely wedging the ladder against a wall.

Footing - the process of using a second person to anchor the bottom of the ladder - should only be used as a last resort. Studies suggest that footing is less effective than other stabilisation methods and could actually overload the ladder.

The above is provided for illustration only. Formal training and the manufacturer's instructions should be followed at all times when using a ladder.

Speak to an expert about your claim

Quittance's network of specialist solicitors have assisted with a wide variety of work accident claims including those relating to ladder injuries.

If you have been injured in a ladder accident and would like to arrange a free consultation to discuss your options, phone Quittance on 0800 612 7456.