"Falls from heights are a major workplace hazard resulting in fatalities and injuries across a broad range of Victorian industries, with the construction industry accounting for 27 per cent of all related injury claims." WorkSafe Media Release.
Working on ladders is a huge hazard.
The Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) reports that for the two year period of a study undertaken by them (2002/3-2003/4) ladder use was related to at least 12 deaths and more than 5000 hospital treated injuries. More than 80% of those injured were male. MUARC's winter 2006 edition of its HAZARD newsletter - which can be downloaded from the right hand side of the page, focuses on ladder related injuries, and provides these and other statistics, as well as some practical advice.
Part 3.3 (Prevention of Falls) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (2017) specifically targets falls from heights of more than two metres, which result in a high number of deaths.
In October 2018, WorkSafe released two new compliance codes to replace old codes. These were updated in 2019. These are:
For more information on prevention of falls, go to the FAQ Working from heights - what are the regulations?
Basically, the regulations say that ladders should only be used as more or less the last resort if undertaking a task at heights. In 2013 the Victorian Coroner's Court, investigating the death of a plumber who fell off an A-Frame ladder, made a number of recommendations. As a result of these, the worker's union, the PTEU (Plumbers' Union), has developed a poster and also a Safe Work Method Statement (downloadable from the right hand side of this page).
In addition, a WorkSafe Victoria Guidance Note: Prevention of falls in construction - selection and use of ladders (now no longer available) stated:
Portable ladders are one of the least stable but most commonly used tools for working at heights. Unlike passive fall prevention devices (eg scaffolding, EWPs or guardrails), portable ladders typically require users to be more vigilant about the risk of falling when working at heights.
Before choosing to use a ladder, you must identify whether a ladder offers the highest level of protection that is reasonably practicable. This is performed by following the hierarchy of control for prevention of falls.
Portable ladders should comply with the requirements of the latest editions of relevant Australian Standard: AS/NZS 1892 Portable Ladders.
There are separate parts which apply to metal ladders, timber ladders and reinforced plastic ladders.
Fixed ladders must comply with the requirements of the most up to date relevant Australian Standard: AS1657 Fixed Platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – Design, construction and installation; and also the Australian Building Code (since May 2015 this has regulatory status)
Are ladders being used safely?
Ladders should only be used for very light work where there is no danger of over reaching and the worker can steady him or herself at all times. Ladders should only be set up on firm flat surfaces. Single and extension ladders should be fixed against movement or footed by another person.
Make sure the ladder is high enough for the job so that workers do not have to stand higher than 900 mm from the top (for single and extension ladders) or the third tread from the top plate of a step ladder. Domestic grade ladders are not suitable for normal building work.
Metal or metal-reinforced ladders should not be used in proximity to any live electrical equipment or power lines.
Ladder bracket scaffolds are only suitable for very light work such as signwriting and should never be set up at heights greater than 2 metres.
Trestle ladder scaffolds should also not be used where a person or object could fall more than 2 metres.
The employer should provide adequate and safe stepladders, or something similar, in any workplace (for example offices, schools) as necessary to enable workers to reach higher shelves, etc. Read more
All employers have a general duty of care under Section 21 of the OHS Act to provide and maintain a healthy and safe workplace, systems of work and plant for employees and others.
So even if there are no specific regulations on ladders, the employer must take all reasonable steps to make sure that any risks associated with working on ladders are eliminated or reduced as much as possible. This includes ensuring that all ladders are regularly checked and maintained.
Please note: There is no such thing as a 'ladder license' under Victorian OHS legislation - nor in WHS legislation around Australia. However, there seems to be a view, particularly in schools, that such a thing exists.
The Victorian Education department has guidelines/policy on working at heights. Previous advice from the Department stated: 'do not use a ladder where you could fall more than 2mts unless you have authorisation' - and this may have led to the mistaken belief that this meant having a licence. There are also compliance guidelines on the Education Department site for Prevention of Falls and Preventing Falls of greater than 2 metres. For links to the department guidelines, go to this page in the Education section of this website.
There are also short courses available on height safety (eg provided through TAFEs or private providers).
- The WorkSafe Victoria Falls Prevention topic page, for information and fact sheets including:
- Guide to Falls Prevention
- Prevention of Falls – Ladders: a 6 page brochure from WorkSafe intended to illustrate practical methods of reducing the likelihood of injuries from falls, both above and below two metres. The publication covers risk assessment, examples of acceptable ladder use, correct use, and ladder maintenance
- Basic steps to Preventing Falls from Heights - provides guidance to assist employers in identifying risks and situations where someone may fall from height. It includes solutions on what safety measures are needed to prevent a fall or minimize the risk. (now archived but still has useful information!)
- a June 2013 guidance note, Prevention of falls in construction – Selection and safe use of portable ladders in response to a Coroner's recommendation following the fatality of a plumber who fell while working from a ladder. The guidance note was developed jointly with employers and unions. (Currently unavailable). However you can download a model SWMS based on the document here [pdf].
- NSW Work Cover: chapter 7 of the Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces Code of Practice has information on ladders, including portable ladders. This can be downloaded from the regulator's page on Working at Heights which also has videos and other resources.
From Safe Work Australia, a seminar, Safe use of ladders
This seminar, released by SWA as part of Tradies Health Month August 2017, provides a step-by-step guide on managing the risks associated with the use of ladders.
SWA says that while using a ladder can seem intuitive, there are some key points to remember prior to using it, not only to ensure one's safety, but in the event of a fall. "Falling from a ladder is one of the most common causes of injury across the construction industry, and we, as roof tilers have to live with and manage this risk daily."
This seminar was produced by the Roof Tiling Association of Australia in consultation with Safe Work Australia, and is also available as a podcast. While it features roof tilers, the advice on use of ladders applies across industries.
- From the UK's HSE Using Ladders Safely webpage, and a number of guides, including:Safe use of ladders and stepladders - a brief guide;
- From WorkSafe British Columbia (Canada) a page of resources on Ladder Safety, including well-illustrated booklet Safe Ladder Use [pdf]
- From Melbourne's Alfred Hospital: a Ladder Safety Guide - developed following research which showed that increasing numbers of men are being injured and killed falling from ladders
Last amended January 2020