Equipment to work at height

Any equipment that is specifically designed to allow the user to work safely at height (eg ladders, scaffolds, tower scaffolds ) is commonly called ‘access equipment’.

Considering the risks associated with work at height and putting in place sensible and proportionate measures to manage them is an important part of working safely.

Follow this simple step-by-step guide to help you control risks when working at height


European standards require that ladders are identified using three classifications…

  • Class 1: heavy duty industrial use – max load 175 kg
  • Class EN 131 (replaces old British Standard Class 2): commercial light trade use – max load 150 kg
  • Class 3: light domestic use – max load 125 kg
  • Note 1: The safe working load (also referred to as the maximum load) is intended to cover the weight of a single person and their equipment.
    Note 2: These classifications do not include pole ladders, static roof access ladders, or loft ladders.
    A colour coding is used to provide a simple visual indication of the classification:

  • Class 1: Blue
  • Class EN 131: Green or Yellow
  • Class 3: Red
  • The colour is typically found on the rubber feet, attached user instructions, or on warning labels.

    Step ladders

    These are used mainly for indoor work but can also be used outside, as long as they are standing on a firm base

    Extension ladders

    Extension – or multi-section – ladders are split into sections which can be extended to reach the required height

    Roof ladders

  • For use on sloped roofs
  • Must be accessed from a scaffold, not a ladder
  • Hooked end prevents the ladder slipping down the roof
  • Pole ladders

  • Used to access scaffolds.
  • Can be up to 12 m in length.
  • Safe use of ladders:

  • Should be inspected before every use.
  • Ladders must only be used on firm, hard ground.
  • Never try to raise an extended ladder.
  • Don’t raise a heavy ladder on your own.
  • Ladders should stand at an angle of 75°– ratio of 1:4.
  • Maintain 3 points of contact.
  • Safe use of ladders:

  • Ladders longer than 3m must be secured, or someone must ‘foot’ the ladder.
  • Ladders should extend at least 5 rungs (or 1.07 m) above the landing platform.
  • When moving ladders more than a few metres, they should be lowered.
  • Never overreach when working on a ladder.
  • Pre-use checks

    Look for:

  • Missing, damaged or worn anti-slip feet on metal and fibreglass ladders/step ladders.
  • Items stuck in or adhered to the feet, such as stones, grease, dirt or other debris, preventing the feet from making direct contact with the ground.
  • Mud, grease, oil or wet paint either on the rungs, stiles, steps or platform.
  • Cracks, splits, bends or warps in the rungs, stiles, steps or platform.
  • Missing, broken or weakened rungs or steps.
  • Pre-use checks
    Look for:

  • Missing or damaged tie rods.
  • Cracked or damaged welds, missing or loose screws or rivets, corrosion, sharp edges, dents
    Painted surfaces.
  • There are two kinds of tower scaffolds:

  • static – stationary; it remains in one place and cannot be moved.
  • mobile – can be moved to a different location when needed.
  • Both kinds of tower scaffold can be either:

  • tailor-made – made for a particular job and constructed in situ
  • proprietary – made by a manufacturer with standard sections which fit together
  • Pre-use checks:

  • working platforms must be close boarded.
  • overhang by boards must not exceed four times the thickness of the boards and must not overhang the support by less than 50 mm.
  • working platforms higher than 2 m must have toe boards fitted at least 150 mm high and guard rails between 920 mm and 1,150 mm high.
  • Podium steps are much better than step ladders; they offer trouble-free and secure access to ceilings and walls, and reduce the chance of falling from just a metre.

    Telescopic Ladders

    One example is just 780 mm when closed but stretches to 3.3 m when extended.
    This ladder will fit easily in the boot of the car. It is also very portable, making it a good choice for tight spaces


    Mobile elevated working platforms (scissor lifts)
    A type of platform that can usually only extend vertically.
    The mechanism to achieve this consists of linked, folding supports in a criss-cross ‘X’ pattern, known as a pantograph (or scissor mechanism).

    Cherry Picker

    Also known as a boom lift, man lift, basket crane or hydraladder
    A type of aerial work platform that consists of a platform or bucket at the end of a hydraulic lifting system
    Crawl Bords
    Designed to be lightweight but very robust

    Enable operatives to work safely within places such as lofts.

    Training for use of access equipment such as mobile tower scaffolds, mobile scissor lifts or cherry pickers is overseen by PASMA (Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association).
    This body represents the interests of manufacturers, suppliers, specifiers and users of mobile access equipment, and provides and oversees the industry standard training scheme.

    Links to checklists, H&S guidance documents, and relevant British standards are available on their web site…