Safer Ladders: How to Choose A Ladder for Your Workplace

Aluminium ladder with yellow hard hat and leather gloves leaning against weatherboard house

There’s a common saying: If it keeps you off the ground, spend money on it. That means shoes, beds, tyres and… you got it, ladders!

When it comes to running a warehouse or manufacturing operation, safety is paramount. Naturally, when we are moving or storing goods around our warehouses, we will be using ladders – but ladders are a significant safety risk if used improperly. Indeed, approximately 70 people fall from steps or ladders in New Zealand each week. Part of appropriate safety management is mitigating risk – including the risk posted by ladders. Making sure you’ve chosen your warehouse ladders carefully is an important part of mitigating that risk, especially when your workers are working at height.

So, what do you need to look for? From platform ladders to order pickers, we’ll be discussing everything you need to look for when it comes to choosing ladders for your workplace.

Different types of ladders

It is worth briefly covering the different types of ladders you can buy, in order to get a broad sense of what each is good for.

  1. Telescopic ladders. Telescopic ladders are great tools for when you need extra range of flexibility. They tend to offer a variety of settings, so they are a great choice if you have a variety of jobs on your site. Telescopic ladders may be self-supporting in some configurations, or rely on external support in other configurations.
  2. Platform ladders. These ladders all feature a platform some way up the ladder structures, for added stability. The platform ladder is great for when you are doing prolonged work at height, or need extra stability for safety.
  3. Step Ladders. Step ladders are fairly similar platform ladders, but are typically only one or two steps high. They are great options for when you just need a little bit of extra height in the workplace. They are typically much more mobile than other types of ladders.
  4. Extension ladders. Extension ladders feature sliding, lockable sections, allowing increased reach. They are not free-standing, and require a support when working (such as a wall). Extension ladders are probably the most unsafe ladders due to design, yet are crucial for some jobs.

 

Alongside these different ladders, it also may be worth considering different types of access equipment to consider, alongside a ladder.

  • Order Pickers and Work Platforms.  These can essentially be understood as heavier duty versions of platform ladders. Typically, work platforms are movable with lockable wheels, and provide greater stability at height than platform ladders. They are not as flexible or mobile as platform ladders, but provide greater safety when it comes to moving heavy loads up and down ladders.
  • Scaffolding. It is worth considering scaffolding if you are needing to work at height for a prolonged period of time. As a semi-permanent structure, scaffolding is highly configurable and offers more options when it comes to accessing the job. Key disadvantages include cost and set-up.

Match your ladder to the job

How tall are your picking or packing jobs? Do you need to use your ladder for multiple jobs, or will its use be contained to just one? These are key questions you need to ask yourself when it comes to buying a ladder.

Some ladders are great for many jobs – telescopic ladders can fold out and provide extra height when its needed, for example. When more height is needed a retractable ladder may be suitable. Yet multi-use tools come with multi-use problems. Retractable ladders are inherently less stable than order pickers or platform ladders, and telescopic ladders tend to have lower load capacity, due to the increase in moving, lockable parts.

If you’re moving smaller items a ladder that uses a wall for support may be perfect, while heavy items or prolonged work may need a platform ladder.

Understanding ladder load capacity

Again, this is highly job specific. Part of ladder safety is centred on load capacity – exceeding specified load limits will put your workforce at risk. The last thing you want is your ladder to collapse beneath you because you exceeded the load limit.

Calculating the loads is simple. What is the average weight of your team, in addition to the weight of the items being carried or used on the ladder? Adding these together will give you a rough figure of the weight moving up and down the ladder, and will help you decide which ladder is right for the job. We recommend erring on the side of caution – it never hurts to over-estimate the expected load.

Ladder material – fibreglass or aluminium?

Fibreglass or aluminium ladders – which is better for safety? Again, it comes down to the job being performed.

  • Fibreglass ladders are heavier and more rigid than their aluminium counterparts. They are typically used for jobs involving electricity, as they will not conduct electricity to the user.
  • Aluminium ladders are lighter, less rigid, and easier to carry and transport. They may be cheaper than fibreglass ladders (particularly when you are looking at buying a cheaper ladder, a practice we do not recommend.)

 

Deciding which is right for you means considering price and application. Aluminium ladders may be more useful, particularly if you are moving the ladder a lot. Likewise, when it comes to stability and rigidity, a fibreglass ladder will be a better bet. Although some reckon fibreglass ladders may be tougher over the long-term, the truth is that when you take care of your ladder properly, it will take care of you. This means avoiding throwing it around the warehouse, and packing it down carefully.

When it comes to working at height, Dexters has the safety equipment you need to keep your team safe

It is important to take as little risks as possible when it comes to working in a warehouse. Using your ladders is no different – that’s why it is crucial that you are using the right ladder for the job. Browse our full range of ladders online today, or contact us if you have any queries. As the leading national safety equipment suppliers, we can help you find what is right for your team.

For more information about working safely at height, visit Worksafe.