Types of access equipment

Lesson Progress:


  • Working from ladders should be considered as a last resort.
  • They should only be considered for light work of short duration (less than 30 minutes is recommended) that does not involve carrying equipment or materials up or down, pulling or pushing motions, or the use of pressure, and where the use of other work equipment is not suitable.
  • They are most often misused when used as a working platform.
  • A risk assessment must have validated the use of a ladder to prove that it is not reasonably practicable to use other means or methods.
  • It is essential that those who use ladders are trained and competent to do so.
  • Always check they are in good condition before use.
  • Report any defects to your supervisor.
  • Ladders should never be used near overhead power lines.
  • Ladders should never be painted as this can hide defects or damaged parts.
Ladder at 75° (one out to four up)

If ladders are used, they must meet the following criteria.

  • Be of the right type – Class 1 Industrial or EN 131 Trade and Industrial – heavy duty and industrial use (for professional users).
  • Be in good condition.
  • Be placed on firm and level ground.
  • Not be at risk of being struck by vehicles.
  • Use outriggers if available.
  • Be set at the right length and angle for the job – 75° or a ratio of 1:4 (one out to four up).
  • Be properly secured (tied at the top).
  • If being used as a means of access, extend 1 m past the stepping off point.

You should have three points of contact with the ladder at all times.

Ladders are classified into two European-wide categories.

  1. Class Industrial or EN 131 Trade and Industrial – heavy duty and industrial use (for professional users).
  2. EN 131 Domestic (for non-professional users). For domestic use only, and should never be used in a construction environment.
Class 1 Industrial or EN 131 Trade and Industrial ladders are recommended for use in construction environments as they offer the highest duty rating.


There are many types of stepladder on the market. Some offer good fall protection and others less so.

Stepladder with integrated side guard-rails for additional protection

Stepladders should only be considered as suitable in the following circumstances.

  • Where a risk assessment has shown the use of other more suitable equipment is not reasonably practicable.
  • The work does not involve pulling or pushing motions.
  • The work does not need pressure to be applied.
  • The work is of a short duration, less than 30 minutes.

Wherever possible, platform steps should be the preferred option over traditional swing-back steps.

  • Always check they are in good condition before use.
  • Always use on firm, level ground.
  • Always make sure they are fully extended and that the user faces towards the steps.
  • The stepladder and you should always face the work (you should not need to twist your body to face the work, as doing so would side load the steps).
  • Three points of contact should be maintained where possible.
  • It is essential that those who use stepladders are trained and competent to do so.
  • Report any defects to your supervisor.
  • Never overreach or apply a side loading.
  • Never stand on the top three treads of any stepladder unless it is designed to be used that way.

Podium steps

Podium steps in use, correctly

Podium steps have become a popular piece of access equipment and are a safe and efficient means of achieving low-level access if used correctly.

  • They are a safe and adaptable form of access equipment, with a safe working platform if used correctly.
  • They allow you to work from the working platform facing every side without it becoming unstable.
  • Some podium steps are fitted with power to allow you to adjust the height easily. Some are fitted with anti-surfing features which prevent you from pulling yourself along when you are on the equipment.
  • It is essential that those who build and use podium steps are trained and competent to do so.
  • They can be unstable and topple over if not built or used correctly.
You must always use the brakes when using towers and podium steps. Do not pull yourself along when you are inside it.

Mobile access towers

Mobile access towers are a safe and adaptable form of access equipment if used correctly. Unfortunately, many access towers are not erected or used correctly, and, as a result, become unstable and are the cause of many accidents.

Safe working on a mobile tower, with toe-boards and guard-rails in position

You should hold a Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association (PASMA) or equivalent qualification to erect, alter or dismantle a mobile access tower.

The training should cover how to reduce common risks associated with this type of equipment and include information on the following.

  • Manufacturer’s instructions for safe use.
  • Positioning of the equipment – it must be positioned on suitable, firm, level ground.
  • Checks made for weak areas, such as inspection chambers and lids, stop tap covers and so on.
  • Making sure it is not being used close to an overhead power line where a person could make direct or indirect contact with the power line.
  • Using locking wheel brakes.
  • Fitting of advanced guard-rails from a lower level to provide edge protection at the level above, without putting the operative at risk during installation.
  • Checking that guard-rails and toe-boards are fitted (these must not be removed).
  • Assessing loading capability (how much weight can be placed on any platform).
  • Considering whether bad weather, such as strong winds, rain or snow, will cause problems.
  • Assessing the chance of the tower being struck by mobile plant or other vehicles.
  • Using barriers and signs to create a safety zone around the tower, to prevent other workers or the public from entering the work area.

You must make sure of the following.

  • Towers are not overloaded.
  • Only the internal ladder is used to access the decks.
  • Working platforms are not fitted too high, so that guard-rails are too low.
  • Prevent and prohibit overreaching.
  • Wheels are locked when the tower is being used.
If you are only working on a mobile access tower and not involve in building, altering, dismantling or moving it, you should receive a toolbox talk on the risks and hazards associated with your work as a minimum. A toolbox talk will not give you the knowledge, skills, experience or authority to build, adapt, dismantle or move the tower.

Mobile elevating work platforms

  • Common types of MEWP are scissor lifts and boom type (cherry pickers).
  • You must only use a MEWP if you have been fully trained and are competent.
  • If you are in a boom-type MEWP you must wear a full body harness and restraint lanyard clipped to the designated attachment point in the basket.
  • If the machine is fitted with additional ground level controls they should only be used in an emergency (for example, if the operator becomes incapacitated or unwell). Someone at ground level should be trained to use the emergency controls.
  • Never clip onto a nearby structure.
  • Never stand on the guard-rails of the MEWP or lean out, especially when going up or coming down.
  • Never climb out of a MEWP in an elevated position unless the unit has been specifically designed for that purpose.
Scissor lift type MEWP
Cherry picker type MEWP
IPAF powered access licence
IPAF operators’ safety guide
You should have access to the operators’ manual for the machine you are using.


  • Scaffolding must only be built, altered or dismantled by trained and competent scaffolders.
  • All working platforms must have double guard-rails and toe-boards fitted.
  • Keep the scaffold working platform clean and tidy. These areas should not be used for storage unless specifically designed and designated for this purpose.
  • You should always follow the safe loading information.
  • Brick guards must be fitted if materials are stored above toe-board height or if there is a risk of tools or materials falling and striking someone below.
  • You must never interfere with scaffolds or remove any components, no matter how simple it You must never overload scaffolds.
Good example of a warning incorporated into a physical barrier – do not access scaffolding if you see this sign
Wire brick guard v/ith double guard-rails and toe-board

Employee prosecuted for dangerous work at heightA steel erection firm’s employee has been sentenced at Manchester Magistrates’ Court after he admitted working unsafely at height on a hotel development in central Manchester.

The Magistrates’ Court heard that a member of the public had contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), claiming that a man had been seen balancing on scaffold tubes in the rain while working on the roof of the multi-storey hotel. HSE inspectors later found the employee working on the roof.

An investigation by the HSE found that the employee had climbed up the scaffold to hammer the steel beams into place and had not used the tower scaffold that had been made available for him. There was also a full-time scaffolder on site, available for any of the contractors to use, to make sure safe working platforms were in place.

The employee in question pleaded guilty to breaching Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, he was fined £1,400 and ordered to pay costs of £2,939.18.

After the case the HSE inspector said: ’This case dealt with a serious work at height risk, which could have led to a fatal incident. The particular employee failed in his duty to protect his own safety while at work, and also placed others at risk had he dropped any tool from the position he was seen in, some 27 m above street level. During the HSE’s investigation he said that he did not appreciate how high he was. Never before in my career as an HSE inspector have I seen such a staggering disregard for personal safety. It is a matter of pure luck that no-one was injured or killed. My thanks go to the member of the public who reported their concern to us, as they have been instrumental in saving a life and arguably that of anyone below him at that time’.

(Source: HSE.)</em