CHOICE thinks it’s important that all ladders on the market comply with the current Australian standard for portable ladders in terms of safe and solid construction, so we tested them to key clauses in this standard. However, the standard is only voluntary for manufacturers and only five ladders (the Bailey, Gorilla, both Ullrichs and the Geelong Single-Sided) claim to comply with it.
We subjected the ladders to a maximum of six tests — fewer if they’d suffered damage in an earlier test. They were tough tests, admittedly, but justifiably so, considering it’s your safety that’s at risk. In previous tests we’d found that ‘walking’ was the main problem with some stepladders, so for this test we subjected those that survived the other tests to a second ‘walking’ test to see whether they had deteriorated as a result of our testing. ‘Walking’ happens when a ladder isn’t rigid enough and moves when you shift your weight from side to side, which could be enough to make you fall off, if it happened unexpectedly. Three ladders failed even the first walking test (the Ullrich Doubled Sided, GAF and House & Home), with almost twice their maximum allowable movement.
The GAF and House & Home then failed the stile bending test (the stiles are the sides of the ladder that support the treads), which checks that the stiles aren’t too flimsy and will survive heavy loading; they incurred structural damage to their treads. The Safety First ladder also failed this test (its stiles bent more than the allowable limit), but this was a more stringent test because the standard specifies a force four times the load rating, and it had the highest (150kg).
The tread to stile shear test checks how the treads or rungs perform when heavily loaded. Only four ladders passed this test: the three in the What to buy list and the Ullrich Double Sided. The other ladders incurred various types of damage under the test force (of three times the rated load): treads collapsed, stiles deformed, supports bent, feet pulled off and rivets pulled out.
Only the five ladders that had survived without structural damage so far (the four mentioned above plus the Geelong Single Sided) could be subjected to the tread bending test: all passed. But of these, only the Bailey survived the second walking test. While this test isn’t required by the standard, it helped us find out how well the ladder has survived the previous test.
However, the Bailey was tested with a lighter test force than the Gorilla and Ullrich GP03 because of their higher load rating. These two failed this test by only a small margin and remained structurally sound, so we included them in the What to buy list — the tests were rigorous and any ladder that got through them unscathed should keep you safe in normal use.