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How to Use Ladders Safely

Different styles of ladders are used to reach heights in a variety of situations, from extendable professional window cleaning ladders to reach those top floor windows, to fixed attic ladders for loft access. Ladders come in a range of heights and designs and the best ladder to use depends on your particular needs. For instance, for home use, step ladders are ideal for interior decorating or cutting a garden hedge, when you don’t need to reach too high. For reaching those high points, such as when working on a rooftop or painting the outside of a building, extension ladders are required.


Ladders consist of a series of rungs supported by vertical stiles. They can be made from a variety of materials, from wood to metal. Aluminum is commonly used for making portable ladders, as it is lightweight and easy to move. Fiberglass, although much heavier, is another popular ladder material as it is so strong and durable. Fiberglass high voltage ladders are safer for when doing electrical work. Styles range from simple straight designs of one length, to extendable or telescopic ladders where the height can be adjusted as required.

Safety should be your top priority when using a ladder to avoid the risk of falling or other accidents. The angle of lean is crucial. As a general rule, the distance on the ground between the bottom of the ladder and the wall should be a quarter of the height of the ladder. For instance, if you’ve extended your ladder to 20ft, the bottom needs to be 5ft from the wall. It’s essential to adjust the height of your ladder accordingly for both safety and ease of use, and to follow the user instructions for your particular ladder.

Professional Window Cleaning Ladders

window cleaning ladderProfessional window cleaning ladders are specially designed with both safety and ease and efficiency of use in mind. Window cleaners spend a large proportion of their time on a ladder, so it’s important to put safety first to minimize the risk of injury or accident. When choosing a professional window cleaning ladder, look for one that meets official safety standards, to be sure you’re getting a reliable product. It may not be the cheapest ladder, but as many window cleaning accidents involve ladders, it’s worth paying more for a safer design.

Features to look for in professional window cleaning ladders include anti-slip rubber feet on both the top and bottom of the ladder. These should help keep the ladder in a stable position. Many window cleaners prefer to use extension ladders made from lightweight aluminum, which is much lighter and easier to maneuver than heavier fiberglass. Aluminum ladders are durable and sturdy, with the advantage of being easily portable, taking some of the strain out of the job.

Other features of professional window cleaning ladders are the type of rungs. Wider, serrated rungs provide a more comfortable working position for standing on for long periods, and are designed for safety. As well as choosing a quality extension ladder for cleaning those high windows, it’s important to use it correctly. Follow the 1:4 rule when positioning your ladder and remember it is always safer to move your ladder to a more convenient position or height than to overreach and injure yourself.

HSE Simplified Guidance

HSE’s revised and simplified guidance : INDG455 ‘Safe use of ladders and step ladders’ and INDG401 ‘Work at height’ brief guides are now available to download from http://www.hse.gov.uk/work-at-height/index.htm.

The new guidance makes it clear, subject to risk assessment, that ladders remain a sensible and practical option in the workplace – and if it’s right to use a ladder, to use the right ladder and to use it safely.

Working With Ladders

Do DO place the base of the ladder on a firm, level, dry surface. If there’s a time when this isn’t possible – working on grass, for instance – tie the feet of the ladder to stakes in the ground to stop it slipping, and place a large flat wooden board underneath to help prevent it sinking. Don't DON’T put a ladder on top of boxes, bricks, barrels or any other unstable surface just to gain extra height.
Do DO position the ladder so that the base won’t slip outwards. Leaning ladders are designed so that their safest angle of use comes when every 1 measure out from the wall is matched by 4 measures up it (rungs are usually about a third of a metre apart, so its easy easy enough to get the distances roughly right).

Most new extension ladders now have a mark on the stiles to show the safest angle of leaning.

Remember the rule: ‘ONE OUT FOR FOUR UP’

The more the base is moved out from this position, the greater the risk that it will slip outwards suddenly and fall down without warning!

Don't DON’T reach too far forwards or sideways, or stand with one foot on the ladder and the other on something else.
Do DO secure the bottom and the upper part of the ladder, by tying them (from stiles, not rungs) with rope or straps onto a stable , fixed object. You can tie the base to stakes in the ground, or use fixed blocks or sandbags to help guard against the ladder slipping, or buy special stabilisers. A rope or strap tied from a stile onto a fixed object at about the height of the fifth rung from bottom will help to stop any further movement. If it’s impossible for some reason to secure the ladder, get another adult to ‘foot’ it (by standing with one foot on the bottom rung and holding a stile in each hand). Don't DON’T carry heavy items or long lengths of material up a ladder.
Do DO rest the top of the ladder against a solid surface, never against guttering, or other narrow or plastic features. Where a surface is too brittle or weak to support the top of the ladder, use a stay or a stand-off resting on a firm surface nearby. Bolt or clip this to the top of the ladder before putting up the ladder. Don't DON’T use a ladder in a strong wind.
Do DO have at least three rungs extending beyond a roof’s edge if you’re using a ladder to get yourself up onto the roof. Don't DON’T wear sandals, slip-ons or have bare feet on a ladder.
Do DO hold on to the ladder with one hand while you work. You can get special trays which fit between the stiles to take paint pots, tools etc. Don't DON’T use a ladder near any power lines.

Working With Stepladders

Do DO rest it on a firm and level base. If you’re working outside, place a large, flat board on any soft ground to make a suitable base.
Do DO position it front-on to the work. Don't DON’T work sideways, at any time.
Do DO check that there are no overhead hazards near where you’re going to work. Don't DON’T have more than one person on the stepladder at a time.
Do DO check that the stepladder is locked into its correct position. If it’s a multi-way design, make sure it’s is the right configuration for the job you’re doing. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Don't DON’T put loose tools where they could move or fall and cause an injury. Use a fixed-on work tray if necessary.
Do DO keep both your feet on a step. Never stand on the top handrail to gain extra height. Don't DON’T forget.. NEVER OVER-REACH
Do DO wear flat, firm soles shoes. Never work in high heels, bare feet or slippers. Don't DON’T hang your ladder vertically from one of its steps.
Do DO keep a secure grip at all times.
Do DO keep both your feet on a step. Never stand on the top handrail to gain extra height.
Do DO keep your stepladder protected from the weather in a covered, ventilated area.
Do DO keep it out of the way of children.