Last edited 16 Jan 2021


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A ladder is a device that allows vertical access to a higher level from a lower level – or vice versa. It is usually inclined at an angle but can be vertical if adequately fixed in place.

A ladder typically comprises two uprights that are connected by a series of parallel horizontal elements called 'rungs' which support a person’s weight and can be thought of as steps: stepping on one rung after another produces vertical movement either to allow ascent or descent.

Ladders may be differentiated by:


  • One-section ladder – the traditional configuration comprising two uprights linked by a series of parallel rungs.
  • Multi-section ladder – allows greater reach but can be bulky to handle and transport. Sections of equal length slide over each other to increase the ladder’s reach. They can be light if they are made from aluminium and so are popular with roofers and decorators.
  • Step ladder – comprises two sections that are pivoted at the top to provide a stable independent structure, usually used for domestic and decoration purposes but with limited vertical reach. It is so-called because the user’s feet rest on treads (steps) as opposed to rungs, making them generally easier and safer to use. They can be folded flat for easier storage.
  • Telescopic ladder (usually aluminium) – these are relatively recent products made of tubular aluminium. They can have a reach of 3-4m and the vertical sections and rungs telescope into a very compact package which can be easily carried. This typically suited to domestic use.
  • Cat ladder: Usually a steel or aluminium ladder that features a protective cradle along all or some of its extent. Users are therefore afforded some protection from falling while moving within the cradle. Cat ladders are usually permanent fixtures bolted to the outside of buildings.


  • Wood ladders are usually the simplest and are the traditional solution. Unlike steel or aluminium, they usually have a limited vertical reach and are less durable. The wood – with time – may become weakened or the rungs may be damaged and therefore become dangerous. They are also easier to vandalise as wooden rungs can be sawn through; if this is imperceptible, the ladder becomes treacherous.
  • Steel ladders provide a strong, durable solution but are usually heavier than both wood and aluminium. They are typically seen as step ladders (sometimes with timber treads) or as permanent vertical ladders fixed to a wall.
  • Because aluminium combines lightness, low-cost and strength, it is seen in many applications that traditionally would have used wood or steel.

Working on ladders can be very dangerous. This is clearly demonstrated by the Ladder Association 'Idiots on ladders' competition.

The Work at Height Regulations (2005) are intended to prevent deaths and injuries caused by falls at work. In 2005/06 falls from height caused 46 fatalities at work and 3350 major injuries.

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