Use space to open navigation items

Step ladders

Occasionally we need to retrieve items from a height that is just out of our reach.  A step ladder or step stool can be used. However, using a step ladder introduces a different set of risks including falling from the ladder.


  • Use the right ladder for the job.
  • Maintain three points of contact when using the ladder.
  • Fully extend and lock the ladder spreaders into place.
  • Ask someone to hold the ladder while you are using it.

Potential harm

  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Hit by an object
  • Musculoskeletal disorders

Identified hazards and controls

Falls from a height


  • Step ladder is not used as per the manufacturer instructions.
  • Ladder used is too short to reach items.
  • Not maintaining three points of contact with the ladder.
  • Ladder is not properly positioned, requiring worker to overreach.
  • Ladder failure.

What workers can do

  • Check the load capacity of the ladder to ensure it will hold your weight and the weight of the items you are retrieving.
  • Make sure the ladder is on a flat stable surface, with the legs and spreaders properly extended and locked in position.
  • Face the ladder steps towards the shelves being accessed.
  • Face the ladder when climbing up or down.
  • Maintain three points of contact when using the ladder.
  • To retrieve large items, you may need to use a lifting device instead of trying to lift and move the item yourself.

What employers can do

  • Provide step ladders or step stools that have the load capacity clearly identified. Provide steps that can take heavy weights.
  • Use signage that advises staff to put heavy items on lower shelves, at knee level.

Musculoskeletal disorders


  • Muscle strains from twisting, bending and overreaching.
  • Carrying items that are too heavy.
  • Sudden movements or unstable loads, such as the bottom falling out of an archive box when lifted.

What workers can do

  • Undertake manual handling training.
  • Be aware of what your personal capacity to lift objects is as this will vary among people.
  • Avoid lifting items above your head.
  • Use a step ladder so you can get to the required height.

What employers can do

  • Offer manual handling training.
  • Use signage that advises staff to put heavy items on lower shelves, at knee level.

Hit by falling objects


  • Objects or items being stacked too high.
  • Hidden objects or items stored on top of other items can fall when the lower item is removed.
  • Reaching for items above your head.

What workers can do

  • If you cannot see the top of the item you are retrieving, use a step ladder to reach the required height and become more level with the item. There could be things on top of the item and out of your sight that could fall on you.
  • Don’t reach above your head to retrieve items as the item could be heavier than you think or it could fall on you.

What employers can do

  • Design storage areas to suit the items to be stored. Shelving should take the size and shape of the stored items and prevent extra items from being stacked on top.
  • Install signage that advises staff to put heavy items on lower shelves, at knee level.

More information


  • See Ergonomic hazards for more information on physical factors in the environment that may cause musculoskeletal injuries, such as sedentary work and slips, trips and falls, and how to eliminate these hazards.



Page last reviewed: 04 May 2021

Comcare (Office Safety tool)
GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 |

Date printed 21 Apr 2024