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22 Aug 2023

extension ladders - ladder risk assessment checklist

Working at height comes with risks. If you're planning to use a leaning ladder, it's important to conduct a thorough ladder risk assessment beforehand.


What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is a series of checks that aim to identify any potential causes of harm, so that they can be dealt with to minimise the risks of injury or worse.

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has guidance on the safe use of ladders, including the kind of hazards you may encounter. Common hazards include:

  • Uneven flooring making it impossible to stabilise the ladder on the ground
  • Work that can't be accessed without overreaching or standing on the top three treads
  • Heavy tools that must be carried up and down the ladder
  • Tasks that will take longer than 30 minutes to complete
  • Being unable to maintain three points of contact
  • Not being able to secure the ladder to anything


Get to know your ladder

It's worth taking the time to familiarise yourself with the equipment you use. Inspect the ladder before you use it and answer the following questions:

  • Are the feet in good condition? Some extension ladders have safety feet that can swivel to ensure their whole surface area remains in contact with the floor. If the feet seem overworn or cracked, they may need replacing. You may alternatively need to use rubber mats to fully secure the ladder feet.

  • Is the body of the ladder in good condition? If there is anything out of the ordinary, like a twisted section of stile or a warped rung, the ladder will probably need replacing.

  • If using an extension ladder, make sure the rung locks are working. If they aren't, the whole section could slide down, which could lead to an injury.


What to do if you identify potential hazards

If you do find hazards when performing your risk assessment, you should take steps to eliminate them before using the ladder.

In situations where you can't eliminate or otherwise mitigate the hazards of ladder use, it may be necessary not to use the ladder until a safer situation can be created. This may involve swapping a potentially-hazardous ladder for a less risky, more secure height access solution, e.g., replacing your old ladder with a new, undamaged one, or using a scaffold tower instead.

READ MORE: When Not To Use a Ladder


Ladder risk assessment examples

While conducting your preliminary risk assessment, you discover that:


> Your extension ladder has a broken rung lock.

Possible Solution: Do not use the damaged ladder. Get a new one and conduct a pre-use check to make sure it is in good working order.


> You will have to stand on the top rung to perform your task.

Possible Solution: It is not safe to stand on the topmost rung of a ladder for a task, so you will either need to get a taller ladder, or find another method of accessing the height needed for the task.


> The ladder is likely to slip while in use.

Possible Solution: Make sure you follow the '1 in 4' rule when positioning the ladder to ensure a good angle. Attach the ladder to a suitable anchor point or wedge it in to keep it from moving. As a last resort, you can ask someone to 'foot' the ladder for you, but this is not recommended.


> The task will take several hours to complete.

Possible Solution: It is not advisable to stay on a ladder for more than 30 minutes. Consider using an alternative height access solution, like a scaffold tower or mobile elevating work platform (MEWP).


Record your findings

If you employ 5 or more workers, you are legally required to record the findings of your risk assessment. It's worth recording them anyway, just in case anything does go wrong.

Risk assessment templates are available on the HSE website. You should carry out risk assessments on a regular basis because new hazards can always arise, and always inspect your ladders before you start a job.

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