Small stepladders review and compare

Don’t risk your safety when washing the windows.
 
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  • Updated:26 Feb 2008
 

01 .Introduction

Ladder

Test results for 12 two-step and three-step stepladders priced from $20 to $155

Getting a spare blanket from the top shelf of the wardrobe, taking the curtains down for a wash or changing a light bulb are simple enough household tasks that generally don’t require you to climb to dizzy heights or carry heavy tools. For such jobs, a small, domestic stepladder, with two or three steps, made of metal or reinforced plastic is probably all you need.

We bought 12 stepladders — including eight with a platform you can stand on and a safety rail, instead of just a top step — from hardware and department stores. The ladders were subjected to tough tests, taken from the Australian ladder standard.

Our main finding: none of the cheaper stepladders priced $50 or less can be recommended, but neither can two that cost more than $100.

Please note: this information was current as of February 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Brands tested

  • Bailey Satellite FS10450
  • GAF 3 Step SL3 #
  • Geelong Single Sided
  • Geelong Wide Tread DWSL3W
  • Gorilla Aluminium Contractor M003-C
  • Homemaker 2 Step Fold-up
  • House & Home 2 Step
  • Household Safety First TR3-WHB #
  • Lion 3 Step Aluminium LT550R
  • Safety First 3 Step CRA030-3
  • Ullrich Double Sided DST03
  • Ullrich General Purpose GP03

# Model is discontinued but some stock may still be available.

 
 

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The following models scored the best results in our test. 

What to buy
Brand Price
Bailey Satellite FS10450 $99
Gorilla Aluminium Contractor M003-C $65
Ullrich General Purpose GP03 $155

These three ladders were the only ones that stayed structurally sound after passing all our tests (the Gorilla and Ullrich failed the second walking test, but only just). We think that shows they’re the most robust for safety in everyday use.

About the rest

The remaining nine ladders failed at least one major safety test. For details of which test(s) they failed, see the table below and Not up to standard, but our testers also noted a few other factors:

  • The Geelong Single Sided and Ullrich Double Sided have two steps and a top cap — no platform. The former has treads on one side only, the latter on both sides. Both felt solid and stable when stood upon.
  • The Geelong Wide Tread DWSL3W, Household Safety First and Safety First are of very similar design and have three usable, wide (26 cm) treads including a top platform and a high safety rail.
  • The remaining ladders all have a platform with safety rail, but its height varies — see the table for details. The Lion and GAF have three usable steps; the Homemaker and House & Home have two.

Results table

Full results for all models are shown the table below. 

  Performance
Brand / model Ease of use score (%) Stability test First walking test Stile bending test Tread to stile shear test Tread bending test Second walking test Price ($)
Recommended: These ladders passed all the key safety tests.
Bailey Satellite FS10450
www.baileyladders.com.au
90 Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass 99
Gorilla Aluminium Contractor M003-C
www.gorillaladders.com.au
85 Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Fail 65
Ullrich General Purpose GP03
www.ullrichmetals.com.au
75 Pass Pass Pass Pass Pass Fail 155
The rest: these ladders failed one of more of the safety tests.
Geelong Single Sided
03 5225 4400
85 Pass Pass Pass Fail Pass Fail 33
Geelong Wide Tread DWSL3W
03 5225 4400
85 Pass Pass Pass Fail NT NT 50
Household Safety First TR3-WHB (A)
1300 362 393
85 Pass Pass Pass Fail NT NT 50
Lion 3 Step Aluminium LT550R
www.lionaust.com.au
85 Pass Pass Pass Fail NT NT 119
Safety First 3 Step CRA030-3
www.hsw.com.au
85 Pass Pass Fail Fail NT NT 80
Ullrich Double Sided DST03
www.ullrichmetals.com.au
80 Pass Fail Pass Pass Pass Fail 139
Homemaker 2 Step Fold-up
www.kmart.com.au
75 Pass Pass Pass Fail NT NT 20
GAF 3 Step SL3 (A)
www.gafcontrol.com.au
60 Pass Fail Fail Fail NT NT 30
House & Home 2 Step
www.bigw.com.au
60 Pass Fail Fail Fail NT NT 22
 


  Features Specifications
Brand / model Number of steps Platform top step * Load rating (kg) Height (cm) ** Weight (kg) Material
Recommended: These ladders passed all the key safety tests.
Bailey Satellite FS10450
www.baileyladders.com.au
3 100 123 3.5 Aluminium
Gorilla Aluminium Contractor M003-C
www.gorillaladders.com.au
2 120 87 4.3 Aluminium
Ullrich General Purpose GP03
www.ullrichmetals.com.au
2 120 86 4.4 Aluminium
The rest: these ladders failed one of more of the safety tests.
Geelong Single Sided
03 5225 4400
2 100 85 5.7 Steel
Geelong Wide Tread DWSL3W
03 5225 4400
3 100 124 8.3 Steel
Household Safety First TR3-WHB (A)
1300 362 393
3 100 123 7.3 Steel
Lion 3 Step Aluminium LT550R
www.lionaust.com.au
3 120 116 2.6 Aluminium
Safety First 3 Step CRA030-3
www.hsw.com.au
3 150 123 7.3 Steel
Ullrich Double Sided  DST03
www.ullrichmetals.com.au
2 120 86 4.9 Aluminium
Homemaker 2 Step Fold-up
www.kmart.com.au
2 100 98 2.9 Steel
GAF 3 Step SL3 (A)
www.gafcontrol.com.au
3 125 105 5.8 Steel
House & Home 2 Step
www.bigw.com.au
2 100 77 4.7 Steel
 

Table notes

Ease of use score: this includes ease of folding and unfolding, and how secure the ladder feels when stood upon. Both aspects are weighted equally.

Price: recommended or average retail as of December 2007/January 2008.

* = All the platform stepladders have a safety rail at the top.
** = Includes safety rail, where present.
NT = Not tested due to previous damage, or the test isn’t applicable to this ladder.
(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some shops.

How we tested

We tested the stepladders according to key clauses of the Australian standard AS/NZS 1892.1:1996 Portable Ladders, Part 1: Metal. For the first two tests we tested all ladders with the same loads, but for the remaining tests with a multiple of their rated load, as required by the standard. These are tough tests, but justifiably so, considering it’s your safety that’s at risk.

  • For the stability test, testers pre-loaded each ladder with a 120kg force, applied various forces to the front, sides and rear and observed whether the ladder’s feet stayed in contact with the ground.
  • The walking tests assess the ladder’s rigidity. Testers loaded each ladder with a 10 kg force, applied sideways forces to each side to raise the legs off the ground (as if you’d leant sideways or reached out) and measured the resulting movement of the front stiles (the sides that support the treads). They repeated this test after the other tests to determine which ladders still passed, and were the most robust.
  • The stile bending test checks that the stiles aren’t too flimsy and will survive heavy loading. Testers applied a force of four times the rated load, checked for structural damage and measured the stiles for permanent deflection.
  • The tread to stile shear test (with a force of three times the rated load) checks the treads (rungs) will survive heavy loading.
  • The tread bending test (with a load two-and-a-half times the rated load) checks the steps’ or rungs’ resistance to bending.
  • For the ease of use score, testers assessed how easy each ladder is to fold and unfold, and how secure it feels when stood upon.

03.Not up to standard

 

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.

Profiles - the best

Bailey Satellite FS10450

Price: $99 Bailey satellite

Details

  • Platform stepladder
  • Three steps
  • Aluminium
  • Load rating 100kg

Good points

  • Passed all safety tests.
  • Excellent ease of use.
  • Has a safety rail with incorporated tool/paint tray.

Bad points

  • Platform step feels a little wobbly because it's narrow, preventing a wide stance.

Gorilla Aluminium Contractor M003-C

Price: $65 Gorilla

Details

  • Small stepladder
  • Two steps
  • Aluminium
  • Load rating 120kg

Good points

  • Passed all safety tests except the second walk test.
  • Very good ease of use.
  • Cross-connected spreaders that can be locked in place from one side.

Bad points

  • While our testers found the ladder was solid and secure to stand on, some people might find its 8 cm deep treads don't feel as secure as a platform or wide tread.
  • Top cap only comes up to shin height, which isn't as secure as a higher safety railing.

Ullrich General Purpose GP03

Price: $155 Ullrich

Details

  • Small stepladder
  • Two steps
  • Aluminium
  • Load rating 120kg

Good points

  • Passed all safety tests except the second walk test.
  • Good ease of use.

Bad points

  • While our testers found the ladder was solid and secure to stand on, some people might find its 8 cm deep treads don't feel as secure as a platform or wide tread.
  • Top cap only comes up to shin height, which isn't as secure as a higher safety railing.
  • The spreaders need to be locked individually.

Profiles - the rest

Geelong Single Sided

Geelong

Price: $33

Details

  • Small stepladder
  • Two steps
  • Steel
  • Load rating 100kg

Good points

  • Feels very secure to stand on.
  • Very good ease of use.
  • Five year warranty.

Bad points

  • Failed tread to stile shear test.

Geelong Wide Tread DWSL3W

Geelong

Price: $50

Details

  • Platform stepladder
  • Three steps
  • Steel
  • Load rating 100kg

Good points

  • Very good ease of use.
  • Five year warranty.
  • Safety rail

Bad points

  • Failed tread to stile shear test.
  • Heavy.

Household Safety First TR3-WHB

Household

Price: $50

Details

  • Platform stepladder
  • Three steps
  • Steel
  • Load rating 100kg

Good points

  • Very good ease of use.
  • Safety rail.

Bad points

  • Failed tread to stile shear test.

Lion 3 Step Aluminium LT550R

Lion

Price: $119

Details

  • Platform stepladder
  • Three steps
  • Aluminium
  • Load rating 120 kg

Good points

  • Very good ease of use, particularly for folding/unfolding.
  • Safety rail.
  • Very lightweight

Bad points

  • Failed tread to stile shear test.
  • Load rating not marked on ladder.

Safety First 3 Step CRA030-3

Safety first

Price: $80

Details

  • Platform stepladder
  • Three steps
  • Steel
  • Load rating 150kg

Good points

  • Very good ease of use.
  • Safety rail.

Bad points

  • Failed stile bending test and tread to stile shear test.

Ullrich Double Sided DST03

Ullrich

Price: $139

Details

  • Small stepladder
  • Two steps
  • Aluminium
  • Load rating 120kg

Good points

  • Feels very secure to stand on.
  • Very good ease of use.

Bad points

  • Failed both walk tests.

Homemaker 2 Step Fold-up

Homemaker

Price: $20

Details

  • Platform stepladder
  • Two steps
  • Steel
  • Load rating 100kg

Good points

  • Good ease of use.
  • Safety rail.

Bad points

  • Failed tread to stile shear test.
  • Load rating not marked on ladder.

GAF 3 Step SL3

GAF

Price: $30

Details

  • Platform stepladder
  • Three steps
  • Steel
  • Load rating 125kg

Good points

  • Safety rail.

Bad points

  • Failed first walk test, stile bending test and tread to stile shear test.

House & Home 2 Step

House and home

Price: $22

Details

  • Platform stepladder
  • Two steps
  • Steel
  • Load rating 100kg

Good points

  • Safety rail.

Bad points

  • Failed first walk test, stile bending test and tread to stile shear test.  

Stepladders with a domestic duty rating can support loads of up to 100kg; you’ll need one with an industrial rating (120kg or 150kg) if any user weighs more than that.
Platform stepladder
Platform stepladders (like the one pictured right) generally have a wide, non-slip platform near the top to provide a working area where you can stand fairly comfortably, or rest your work tools, can of paint and so on. The ones in our test have two or three usable steps and a safety rail at the top against which you can brace your legs or body, depending on the rail’s height.

Small stepladders are lighter and easier to use than the common 1.8m A-frame one, with its bulk and weight. They’re available sSmall stepladderingle or double-sided (the picture shows a single sided one); double-sided models have treads on both sides. The ones in our test have two usable steps and a top cap of various widths. This is the uppermost horizontal member of a stepladder it's not to be used as a step. The top cap of the ladder shown at right only comes up to mid-shin height, so it’s less comfortable to lean against when working on the ladder.




While some weaknesses of ladders will only be revealed in lab tests, there are things you can check for yourself when shopping for a stepladder. Unpack and check it before you buy to ensure:

  • It’s the right height and load rating for your needs. A ladder for domestic use has a load rating of 100kg; that's how much it can safely bear. If your weight’s close to 100kg or above, a better option is a ladder with an industrial duty rating that can support a load of up to 120 kg or 150 kg. See the results table for the load ratings of each ladder.
  • It’s rigid and secure when set up.
  • It’s labelled with clear safety instructions.
  • Its feet have a secure grip.
  • A top platform with a safety rail you can brace yourself against can be useful, especially if you aren’t comfortable using ladders. The higher the rail reaches, the more secure you’ll feel standing on the top step.
  • Deep and wide treads (steps) make you feel more secure when standing on the ladder.
  • A tool or paint tin tray at the top of the safety railing can be handy. The Bailey Satellite FS10450 has one.

A fall from a height of one to two metres can be enough to cause serious injuries, such as fractured limbs, spinal cord damage, severe brain injury or even death. Over the five years to 2006, at least 83 Australians, mainly men, died after falling from a ladder, and thousands more have been seriously injured, according to the ACCC. Men at or nearing retirement age are in the highest risk category for accidents involving a fall from a ladder.

To maximise your safety when using a stepladder at home:

  • Read and follow the ladder’s safety instructions, and don’t stand higher up than is recommended.
  • Check it’s undamaged, clean and dry before use.
  • Place it on a firm and level surface that’s dry and not slippery; never try to extend it by balancing it on boxes, bricks or other unstable bases.
  • Never use it folded leaning against a wall.
  • Don’t use it in front of a door that someone could open onto it.
  • Open the ladder fully and make sure all joints and spreaders are locked firmly in place.
  • Don’t load it beyond its rating.
  • Don’t use it as a scaffold support.
  • Climb up and down facing the ladder, and don’t reach out too far while on it.
  • Always keep at least one hand (preferably both) on the ladder when ascending or descending.
  • Don’t carry a load that needs both your hands, or is heavy enough to unbalance you, up or down a ladder.
  • Don’t use a metal ladder for electrical work.
  • Wear shoes with a good grip on the soles to avoid slipping.
  • Store it in a dry, ventilated place to prevent rust and rot.