Dos & Don’ts Of Portable Ladders


Following a number of crew injury claims, Steamship Mutual P&I Club released a Risk Alert focusing on the use of portable ladders.

Although ladders are in common use both ashore and on ships, investigations into the causes of these accidents show the risks associated with their use at sea are often not fully appreciated.


  1. Carry out a risk assessment and toolbox talk before starting the job.
  2. Review your company’s Safety Management System for guidance on working at height.
  3. Check the ladder is clean and in good condition before using it. If damaged do not use it.
  4. Check how much load the ladder can take.
  5. Consider how the ladder can be secured at the top and bottom before starting.
  6. Check the place where the ladder will stand to ensure the base is stable, dry and clear of tools.
  7. Consider the prevailing weather conditions and how these may affect the vessel’s motion.
  8. Make sure the ladder is pitched between 60° and 75° from the horizontal.
  9. Provide a clearance of at least 150mm behind the rungs.
  10. Make sure the ladder is properly secured against slipping or moving sideways at the base and the top by using a lashing.
  11. Wear a safety harness which is connected to a strong place on the vessel’s structure above the ladder.
  12. Always face the ladder and keep three points in contact with it, i.e., two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot.
  13. Make sure enough lighting is available to illuminate the ladder and work place.
  14. Use wooden or fibreglass ladder when electrical hazards may be present.


  1. Use a ladder if the working height exceeds 9 metres.
  2. Carry tools or equipment up a ladder.
  3. Work on a ladder alone. Make sure someone else is there to assist.
  4. Use a portable ladder for more than 30 minutes.
  5. Stand on the top three rungs of the ladder.
  6. Exceed the maximum load of the ladder.
  7. Overreach on a ladder to work – move the ladder to a closer position.
  8. Use portable ladders as a horizontal walkway or platform, nor to access over the vessel’s side, hatch coaming or accommodation.
  9. Place a ladder outside an unlocked or unguarded door where it can be knocked over if someone opens the door.

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