Access Ladders


  • Access ladders are probably the simplest and most common means of transferring from one level of a maintenance area to another. They are not suitable for use in operational (non-maintenance) areas.
    Access ladders should be rigidly fixed in position and are preferable to temporary ladders, as they should not move. However, note that they are less preferable to stairs, as they still prevent a significant fall risk.

Ladders are formed of rungs, supported by one or two vertical stiles. The dimensional requirements of a typical ladder are shown in Fig XXX. The stiles should be secured to the structure. There should be firm level areas at the top and bottom of the ladder, where there are no significant fall risks. There should also be a gate at the top of the ladder.

Generally, ladders should only be used for the shortest of climbs and if the climb is more than 2 metres, it is recommended that a means of fall protection is included and this is usually in one of two forms:

  • Safety Cage – it is accepted that cages cannot reduce fall risks on ladders to insignificant levels, but they will prevent some falls, where the User’s feet remain on the rungs. It is recommended that their use as a means of protection should be limited to a maximum climb of 6m and also only for access frequencies of less than once per month.
  •  Fall Arresters – these systems do provide a significantly more reliable means of fall protection than cages, but are reliant on the User having competency in the specific system and that the required PFPE is available.  Where these systems are used it is necessary to have a rescue plan in the event of an emergency.  There are 3 common types of fall arrester used with ladders:
  •  Guided Type on Rigid Line – this is normally a metallic track or cable which is fixed over the full length of the ladder.  The User wears a Full Body Harness which has a front attachment point and connects this to the rigid line with a proprietary anchor device.  These devices will allow the User to move up and down, but in the event of a fall will lock on to the anchor line, minimising the fall distance.  It is essential that the top of the anchor line finishes sufficiently high above the upper level to allow the user to move into a safe location, before detaching from the system.
  •  Guided Type on Flexible Line – a temporary system, this is very similar to the Rigid Line Fall Arresters above, but the bottom of the anchor line is not fixed in position.  These anchor lines are normally twisted or kernmantel ropes. They can be positioned using a ‘first-man-up’ device, comprising a telescopic pole with a special type of connector, which allows the flexible anchorage line to be installed from the ground,
  •  Retractable Blocks – these should be mounted directly above the User on the ladder and will pay in and out allowing the User to move up or down, but in the event of a fall will lock minimising the fall distance.  The blocks should be mounted high enough to allow the User to move to a safe position before disconnecting.  The mounting point should be a EN795 compliant anchor system.  A tether line should always be fitted to the retractable to avoid it being stored whilst paid-out, as this will damage the mechanisms.

Applicable UK Standards & Guidance

Specification for Permanently Fixed Ladders

·         Safety of Machinery – Permanent Means of Access to Machinery – Part 4: Fixed Ladders

Both standards are current, but the BS EN ISO standard is considered a more current and comprehensive standard than the BS standard.  The two standards are largely consistent with one another, but there are a small number of significant contradictions and it is generally recommended that the BS EN ISO standard is followed where possible.

For standard information regarding fall arresters, please refer to the relevant part of this website.

Levels of Safety

Climbing a ladder with no fall protection presents the User with significant risk of a fall from height and potentially fatal or life-changing injuries.

Risk should be managed by minimising the use of ladders and ensuring Users are fit and healthy enough for the activity.

Users should ensure that they have both hands free when climbing the ladder.  Small tools and materials should be in a small backpack or transferred separately.

It is recommended that Fall protection systems are fitted to all ladders with a climb of more than 2m.  Fall arresters are more effective than cages, but do require specific competencies and equipment.

Design Considerations

The designer should ensure that the fixings used are suitably robust to ensure the ladder remains rigidly secured, for its design life, despite significant impact and vibration during use.

The rungs and stiles of the ladder should be designed for service load of 1.5kN.

The ladder should be 200mm or more from the wall, to allow the User to place their feet fully onto the rungs.

If a fall arrester is fixed to the ladder, the ladder should resist the applied fall arrest service load of 6kN.

Where ladders are used for a significant climbing height, the ladder system should be split into separate flights and each flight should not exceed 6m.  The fights should be staggered, so that a person cannot fall the full climb height.  There should be a rest platform with gates between each flight of the ladder.  Note that the design of these rest platforms can be challenging and complex for some substrates (walls).

There should be no significant fall or trip risks at the top or base of the ladder.  Guard rail should be used where appropriate either side of the ladder.  There should be a self-closing gate at the top of the ladder.

Ladders are usually either fabricated or formed from modular kits.  The designer should consider all aspects of the installation process when selecting and designing the ladders, including lifting operations, manual handling and falling objects.

User Considerations

The User should ensure that the ladder is in good condition and that there is no apparent damage before climbing.

They should try to ensure the ladder is stable and be confident that it would resist a service load of 1.5kN.

The User’s hands should always be free whilst climbing the ladder.  Tools and small materials should be in a small backpack (or similar).  Or should be transferred by another means, such a hoist or line.

If there is a fall arrester, the User should be competent in its use and have the correct PFPE and equipment.  There should be a rescue plan in place in the event of a fall arrest on the ladder.


Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER)

Regulation 6 requires that inspections of work equipment are made and that records of the inspections are maintained.

Workplace (Health Safety & Welfare) Regulations

Regulation 5 requires the employer and/or the person in control of premises must maintain the workplace and contents so that they remain safe and without risk to health and fully comply with the detailed requirements of the regulations.