Guide to ladder safety around the home

man standing stable on a ladder resting against a house roof

RACV Staff

Posted March 01, 2023

Ladder falls in the home are on the rise, with nearly half of victims requiring a trip to hospital. Here's how to keep safe when working at height on a ladder inside and outside the home.

From gutter cleaning to changing lightbulbs, ladders are used for many DIY home maintenance tasks around the home. But falls from ladders can cause serious injury and even require a visit to hospital. Here's why you need to take ladder safety more seriously.

Ladder falls on the rise in Victoria

Ladder falls have increased by 9 per cent between 2019-2022, according to the Monash University Accident Research Centre's Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit.

76 per cent of ladder fall injuries occurred to males, while more than one third of injuries occurred to people aged between 55 and 69 years old.

Fractures were the most common injury sustained from ladder falls, followed by dislocations, sprains and strains. Injuries to the ankle and foot were the most common (15 per cent), followed by the wrist and hand (14 per cent) and the head (13 per cent).

Most significantly, 48 per cent of those falling from ladders were admitted to hospital for further treatment, underlining the severity of injuries sustained from ladder falls.

two RACV Trades workers standing safely on ladders working on roof gutters

When taking on a task at height, always make sure the ladder is positioned correctly. Image: Getty.

Why ladder falls occur at home

RACV Head of Home Trades & Services Kieran Davies says that complacency is dangerous when it comes to home maintenance tasks involving ladders. Often ladder falls occur when people overreach, do not keep three points of contact, position their ladder on an unsupportive surface, use the wrong type of ladder for the task, or overestimate their ability.

"People taking on tasks from a height need to make sure they are capable and have positioned their ladder safely, because even a small trip or a stumble can result in an injury," Davies says. "Victorians are simply not taking their safety on a ladder into account as much as they should be."

When to hire a professional for tasks requiring a ladder

With many chores and tasks around the home like cleaning gutters, changing lightbulbs and trimming hedges involving the use of a ladder, some jobs are better off left to trained professionals.

"If the job requires specialist equipment, training or a licence, is dangerous or you think may be beyond your skill or physical ability, you should get a professional to do it for you," Davies says. "It’s really important to be honest with yourself about your equipment, abilities and importantly your age. If you’re unsure or don’t feel comfortable completing the task, call in a professional. Even if it’s a job you used to do yourself, it’s just not worth the risk."


man holding ladder stable as woman on the ladder changes a lightbulb

Always make sure the ladder steady is when conducting home maintenance tasks. Image: Getty. 

Ladder safety checklist and tips

While professional help for bigger jobs is recommended, you may find yourself doing the odd DIY project at home. Follow these rules to keep yourself as safe as possible when using a ladder.

Use the right ladder for the job

Having the right ladder for the job is paramount. Any ladder you use should be labelled with its Australian Standard AS/NZS 1892 approval. Check that the ladder is in good working order before you use it, with no broken, damaged or missing parts. Don't use a rusty ladder, and clean off any grease or other slippery materials from the steps.

"The ladder should have working safety locks and non-slip feet," Davies says. "It also needs to be the right height and weight rating for the job you are using it for. If you can only reach by standing on the top rung, then the ladder is too short for the job and you should stop. Remember that the weight rating includes any tools and supplies you're carrying."

Get someone to help you

"It is always safer to have someone else with you to hold and support the ladder," says Davies. Another set of eyes on the task can help spot potential hazards, help out if the position of the ladder needs to change, or provide immediate first aid in case of an accident.

Position your ladder correctly

Ladder positioning is also important. Always set up your ladder on a firm, level surface that isn't wet or slippery. "Ensure that you can set your ladder up somewhere that won’t be knocked by doors or windows, but that is also close enough to your work area that you won’t be reaching or leaning," Davies advises. "It can be really tempting to reach out to the side that extra bit with the paint brush rather than get down and move your ladder, but this can be extremely dangerous."

If you're using an extension ladder, ensure that it extends at least one metre over the top of the surface it rests against and make sure to secure it at the top. You should also follow the 1:4 rule: for every 4 metres of ladder height, the ladder base should be positioned 1 metre away from the structure.

Check the weather

The weather is also a major factor when it comes to ladder safety. "Take the time to assess your job and the environment when working at height outside," Davies says. "Don't work if it’s too hot, wet or windy, and make sure you are wearing appropriate non-slip footwear." Extremely hot temperatures could make you feel faint or dizzy, causing you to lose your balance at height. Wet or windy conditions could cause your ladder to slip or fall.

Climb the ladder appropriately

When climbing a ladder, wear enclosed and slip-resistant shoes. Do not wear thongs and sandals, because they do not provide the grip and support that you need. Make sure that your shoelaces are securely tied, and that your pant legs don't extend underneath your shoes.

When climbing, face the ladder and stay in the centre of the rails. Maintain three points of contact at all times by holding the ladder with both hands as you climb and carrying any tools in a toolbelt.

On a step ladder, only climb to the second rung from the top and never stand on the pail shelf, spreaders or back section.

On an extension ladder, only climb to the third rung from the top. Never climb above the point where the ladder touches the wall or vertical support.

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