The Use of Portable Ladders to Work at Height


In the fast-paced world of industrial and construction activities, the use of portable ladders to work at height is a common, yet often underestimated, aspect of onsite safety management. While ladders provide a practical and time-efficient means to access elevated areas, their use is accompanied by significant risks. As an experienced health and safety professional, I aim to shed light on the best practices and safety measures essential for the effective and safe use of portable ladders. This article will delve into the various aspects of ladder safety, outlining the key considerations and strategies to mitigate risks, thus ensuring a safer workplace in alignment with Australian safety standards.

Understanding the Risks

Before we can effectively manage the risks associated with ladder use, it is crucial to understand the nature of these risks. Falls from height remain one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and fatalities in Australia. Portable ladders, due to their versatility and ease of use, are often chosen without full consideration of their limitations and the potential hazards they present. These hazards include ladder instability, overreaching, improper use, and failure due to wear and tear or inappropriate selection.

Selecting the Right Ladder

The first step in mitigating ladder-related risks is selecting the appropriate ladder for the task. Australian Standard AS/NZS 1892.1 provides comprehensive guidelines on the types, specifications, and load ratings of portable ladders. It is essential to choose a ladder that is fit for the purpose – considering the height, the nature of the work, and the weight it needs to support. This includes not only the weight of the user but any tools or materials that will be used.

Ladder Setup and Use

Proper ladder setup is pivotal for safety. Key considerations include:

  • Ensuring the ladder is on stable and level ground.
  • Setting the ladder at the correct angle (the 4:1 rule – one unit out from the base for every four units of height).
  • Securing the ladder at the top, bottom, or both to prevent slipping.
  • Avoiding electrical hazards and environmental factors that could compromise safety.

When using the ladder, maintain three points of contact at all times, avoid overreaching, and never use the top rung unless it is designed for that purpose.

Training and Culture

A critical aspect of ladder safety is training and fostering a safety-first culture. Workers should be trained not just in the correct use of ladders but also in identifying hazards, proper selection, and daily pre-use checks. Encouraging a culture where safety is prioritised and workers feel empowered to speak up about potential hazards is just as important as any physical safety measure.

Regular Maintenance and Inspections

Regular maintenance and inspection of ladders cannot be overstated. This involves checking for defects such as cracks, bends, loose rungs, or corroded components. Any ladder that is found to be defective should be tagged out and removed from service until repaired or replaced.


In conclusion, while portable ladders are a practical tool in various work environments, their use requires careful consideration, selection, and handling to ensure the safety of all personnel. By adhering to Australian safety standards, conducting regular training, and fostering a culture of safety, we can significantly reduce the risks associated with working at height.

If you would like to know more or would like our assistance in the areas mentioned check us out at Alternately, call us on 1300 990 336 or email us at [email protected]

author avatar
Brendan Day Chief Executive Officer
Brendan Day, based in Sydney, is a WHS and Emergency Management expert with a rich background in emergency services, including significant experience as a military firefighter, emergency responder, and emergency response manager. His career spans across both public and private sector roles, where he has developed and implemented comprehensive WHS management and Emergency Management systems. As the CEO and Principle Trainer at Intrinsic Safety, Brendan combines his military discipline with modern safety practices, offering advanced training in workplace health, fire safety, confined spaces, height safety and first aid. His qualifications, including a Diploma of Work Health and Safety, reflect his commitment to safety excellence and continuous improvement in emergency response management and safety practices.
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