Ladders and stepladders are not banned under health and safety law. Ladders and steps can in fact provide the most convenient, practical and sensible means of access for all kinds of low-risk, short duration jobs at a height.
When using any type of ladder – whether it be an extension ladder, wooden pole ladder, combination ladder, or a step ladder - you must ensure that it is in good working order and that there are no weakened points, bends or broken rungs in the ladder. If the ladder shows any signs of wear and tear, you should not use it.
You must ensure that the ladder is properly set up before beginning to use it. For extension ladders, make sure that the ladder extension is properly locked into place and ensure that the ladder is set at a safe angle to the wall that it is leaning against - the rule of thumb is for every 4 up, the ladder should be 1 out. For step ladders, combination ladders or folding ladders, ensure that the ladder has been properly folded out and the sections are securely locked into place.
Make sure that you have somebody in place at the bottom of the ladder, holding it safely whilst you work. You can also use a ladder safety foot to provide extra security and stability to the ladder.
If you are leaning a ladder up against a building or wall, it is recommended that you secure the ladder to the building or wall, to prevent it from slipping either outwards or sideways. The ladder should also be resting on a strong and stable surface. You should not lean the ladder on a weak surface (such as guttering). Instead you should use a ladder stay to safely and securely lean the ladder up against the building.
For maximum stability, you should not work from the top three rungs of the ladder, and try to make sure the ladder extends at least 1 m (three rungs) above where you are working. You should also not try to over reach whilst using the ladder. If you cannot safely reach, you should climb down the ladder, move it into a better position and then climb back up. You should also not try to climb the ladder with tools in your hand. Instead, you should use a tool belt to transport tools up the ladder – so that you have your hands free for climbing.
For more specific advice on the safe use of ladders, step ladders and more, take a look at the HSE website.
The HSE ‘Safe use of ladders and stepladders - brief guide’ is also an excellent resource.