Ladders review 2005

Are they all equal?
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  • Updated:8 Jan 2005

07.How we tested

We tested the ladders according to key clauses of the current Australian standard. Based on our tests in 1997, these are the clauses most likely to show up a ladder’s weak points. The multipurpose ladders were tested for all these; the stepladders and platform stepladders were only tested for walking.

  • Stile bending and deflection — checks that the stiles (the sides of the ladder that support the treads) aren’t too flimsy and will survive heavy loading.
  • Permanent set — checks if the ladder will permanently warp under load.
  • Tread to stile shearing — checks the treads (rungs) will survive heavy loading.
  • Walking — tests the ladder’s rigidity. See Walking the walk.
  • Work platform — the ladder is configured as a work platform (like a scaffold) and subjected to a heavy load.
  • Unlocked joint test — the ladder is set up as a straight ladder against a wall, with both central hinges unlocked. The ladder must fold under its own weight or a minimal load, to ensure it collapses before you climb onto it rather than afterwards.
  • Single joint lock test — the ladder is set up as a straight ladder with one of the central joints left unlocked. It's leaned against a wall at 75 degrees and then subjected to a heavy load. The idea is to see if the ladder can still support a person’s weight even when set up incorrectly or when one of the central joint locks fails. The ladder is allowed to suffer damage during the test but mustn’t collapse. It’s a severe test, and most ladders struggle with it. In our 1997 test, all four multipurpose ladders failed this test. This time, they all passed.

Ladder safety

A 2001 study in Melbourne showed that ladder instability, where the ladder slips or tilts out of position, is a significant cause of ladder accidents. Some accidents may have been caused by faulty ladders, but most resulted from unsafe usage, such as bad ladder placement or dangerous conduct when on the ladder. The study noted that most ladder accidents happened to older men doing home maintenance or gardening. Over 40% of ladder accidents resulted in hospitalisation. Even the best ladder can’t save you if you misuse it.


  • Read and follow the safety instructions on the ladder.
  • Check it’s undamaged, clean and dry before you use it.
  • Place it on a firm, dry and level surface that’s not slippery.
  • Make sure all joints and spreaders are locked firmly in place.
  • When using a straight or extension ladder, follow the ‘one to four’ rule: four measures up the wall should be matched by one measure away from the wall.
  • Always lean straight or extension ladders against a strong, solid surface.
  • Extension ladders should be secured (for example, tied off with rope) if you’re going to be working at a height for a long time.
  • Climb up and down facing the ladder.
  • Always keep at least one hand (and preferably both) on the ladder when ascending or descending.
  • Wear shoes with a good grip on the sole, to avoid slipping.
  • Store ladders in a dry, ventilated place, to prevent rust and rot. Hang them horizontally if possible, and protect wooden ladders with clear varnish or linseed oil.


  • Don’t use a folded stepladder leaning against the wall: its feet may not be safely grounded.
  • Don’t try to extend a ladder by balancing it on boxes, bricks or other unstable bases.
  • If you need to balance the ladder feet on uneven ground, don’t rest the high leg on a brick; instead, dig a hole for the lower leg.
  • Don’t load the ladder beyond its rating.
  • Don’t carry a load up or down a ladder that needs both your hands, or is heavy enough to unbalance you.
  • Don’t put the ladder in front of a door that may open onto it.
  • Don’t reach or lean out too far in any direction from the ladder.
  • Don’t use a metal ladder for electrical work or near power lines (use a fibreglass or wooden ladder instead).
  • Don’t stand higher up on a ladder than is recommended on its label.
  • Don’t paint your ladder as this may conceal cracks.
  • Don’t use ladders in strong wind.
  • Don’t use step or step-extension ladders as scaffold supports.
  • Don’t use a ladder if another, safer way can be found to do the job (for example, using an extension handle on a paint roller).

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