Using portable ladders in the workplace

Falls from any height can seriously injure employees. The risk of serious injury or death increases if you work at heights above two metres. Anyone on a ladder is at risk of falling, even at heights below two meters.


Common hazards

Common hazards of workplace ladder use include:

  • using damaged, poorly maintained or domestic-grade ladders
  • ladders that are incorrectly set up or unsuitable for the task
  • lack of controls to prevent a fall from a ladder

Is a ladder the right tool?

Ladders should only be used for simple and short-duration tasks, temporary access, or egress. It is best to work at ground level where possible. If you cannot work from the ground, consider other options like scaffolding or elevated work platforms (EWP).

Before choosing to use a ladder, employers must identify whether a ladder offers the highest level of protection that is reasonably practicable. To do this, apply the fall prevention hierarchy of control. Employers must use the highest level of control appropriate for the task so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers must consult with employees when making decisions about risk controls.

Fall prevention

Where there is a risk of a fall of two metres or more, employers must:

  • identify any task that involves a fall hazard
  • assess the risks associated with those hazards
  • control the fall risks, so far as is reasonably practicable, following the fall prevention hierarchy of control
  • review and, if necessary, revise any measures implemented to control fall risks

Where there is a risk of a fall of less than two metres, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risk to health. Employers must also identify fall hazards and control those hazards so far as is reasonably practicable.

Note: Additional duties may apply where you are performing construction work.

Fall prevention hierarchy of control

Selecting a ladder

If you need to use a ladder, it must be fit for purpose, appropriate for the task's duration, and set up correctly. Consider:

  • the actions involved in the task (including reach)
  • ladder stability
  • ladder height
  • ground conditions where the ladder is being set up

Below are examples of ladders in order of stability and safety.

Most stable, lower risk

Order picker ladders

(also called chariots, order picking work platforms)

These ladders:

  • are the most stable ladder option
  • have solid fall protection on all sides
  • have wheels for ease of moving
An order picker. The most stable and lowest risk.
Order picker ladder with fall protection

Less stable, higher risk

Step platform ladders

Stepladder with work platform, platform ladder with fall protection

These ladders:

  • provide some stability
  • are foldable and easily transportable
  • have a small working platform and partial handrail
A step platform ladder.
Platform ladder with fall protection

The least stable, highest risk

A-frame, straight, single or extension ladders

These should only be used for accessing a work area or as a working platform for light work of a short duration that can safely be done on a ladder.

These ladders:

  • are the least stable
  • have less flexibility

The top of the ladder should be at waist height - never stand or work from the top rung of an A-frame ladder.

Illustrated image of an A-Frame ladder
A-Frame ladder

Industrial rated ladders

Ladders used in a workplace need to meet the minimum standards set out in Australian Standard 1892.1: 2018 Portable Ladders, Part 1: Performance and geometric requirements. These requirements include:

  • being 'industrial grade' and of robust construction
  • having a minimum 120kg safe working load rating
  • being suitable to the task


Employees should only use ladders if they:

  • are trained on how to use the ladder, including setting up the ladder safely
  • are supervised where required

Setting up a ladder

Never set up a ladder on scaffolding, an EWP or stacked materials for extra height.

All ladders need to:

  • have non-slip feet
  • be set up in an area clear of other hazards, including penetration risks, hits or knocks from objects, persons or vehicles
  • have functioning stability spreaders/braces locked into place before using the ladder

As well as the above, on straight or extension ladders, ensure the ladder is:

  • three rungs above the step-off point or extends 900mm when used for access
  • placed on a height-to-width ratio of 4 to 1
  • secured at the top and bottom
Ways to secure the top and bottom rungs of straight ladders
Examples of suitable ways to secure the top and bottom rungs of straight ladders
A setup straight ladder
Example of a straight ladder correctly set up

Using the ladder

When using a ladder:

  • always maintain three points of contact with the ladder, for example:
    • have two feet and one hand on the ladder, or
    • one foot and two hands on the ladder, or
    • two feet and one other point of contact with the ladder, such as a hand or thighs leaning against the ladder
  • never hold tools or materials when climbing a ladder, and always face toward the ladder when ascending or descending
  • never stand on a rung that is less than 900mm from the top of a straight or extension ladder
  • make sure nobody is under the ladder
  • restrict access to the working area as much as possible
  • never over-reach – always move the ladder if you need to reach something
  • never use tools that need two hands or a high degree of leverage to operate
  • never let more than one person on the ladder at the same time
  • never straddle the ladder
Do not straddle a ladder
Do not straddle a ladder
Never stand above the second tread below the top of an A-frame ladder.
Never stand above the second tread below the top
Platform stepladder used for work near a ceiling
Platform stepladder used for work near a ceiling
A-frame ladder used safely
An A-frame ladder used for work near a ceiling.

Ladder maintenance

Never use ladders with:

  • loose, missing or damaged rungs, steps, treads or top plates
  • damaged stiles or stringers
  • missing, broken or loose tie rods
  • missing, broken or worn ropes, braces, spreaders or brackets
  • covered with paint or treatment that could disguise a fault in the timber

Acceptable use of ladders

Ladders can be used to:

  • install lightweight items or fixtures, for example, a light fixture in a 3 meter high ceiling
  • inspect, assess or do minor maintenance, for example, service air-conditioning units
  • operate a one-handed lightweight, low-torque (or clutched) power tool, for example, cordless drill

Considerations when using a ladder

Complete the below checklist before using a ladder. If you answer yes to any of the questions, review the hierarchy of control.

  • Does the ladder show sign of damage or faults?
  • Could the weight of the load exceed the ladder capacity?
  • Is the ladder too short for the person to stand on or below the third rung from the top?
  • Will the person need to straddle the ladder to reach the task?
  • Will the task involve working near powerlines or other electrical wires?
  • Is the weather wet or windy?
  • Is the surface unstable?
  • Do objects nearby create a potential hazard?
  • Is the ladder base near a drop, for example, mezzanine, objects at height?
  • Is anything preventing the safe set-up?
  • Does the user require any extra training for set-up/use?
  • Does the task involve handling heavy, awkward or bulky loads?
  • Does the task involve using 2-handed equipment?
  • Does the task involve tools that need a high degree of leverage?
  • Does the task need the user to use both hands at any point (so they cannot maintain three points of contact at all times)?
  • Will the task take a long time?
  • Will the task need someone to reach beyond the ladder stiles?
  • Will the person have to face away from the ladder while working?
  • Will more than one person need to use the ladder at the same time?
  • Will personal protective equipment create extra risks?

Legal duties

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 requires employers to protect the health and safety of employees and other persons.