Shopping for a ladder can be a daunting task. With a huge range of makes and models available, it’s tempting to just keep using the same old rickety one that’s been lurking in the garage for years.

But it’s time to stop playing Russian roulette with your safety and buy a decent ladder for the jobs around your home.

To find the right one for you, be sure to do a little research before you go shopping.

One step at a time

The first thing to consider is the material. Ladders are made of timber, fibreglass or aluminium, but these days timber ladders are being phased out in favour of fibreglass, as it’s stronger and easier to manufacture.

If you’re going to be working near powerlines, to reduce your risk of electrocution choose a ladder made of fibreglass.

When there’s no source of electricity in the vicinity, aluminium ladders are the best because they’re strong, but more lightweight than fibreglass.

Next, think about what load rating you’re going to need. This means the maximum safe amount of weight the ladder can support.

To calculate this, weigh yourself on a scale wearing your work clothes, and carrying any tools you will be using.

Since a quality ladder is a long-term investment, factor in how much your weight might fluctuate over the years, as well as who else may use the ladder.

The next step is where most buyers get it wrong, because they incorrectly guess the height they need to reach when they’re shopping in store.

Calculating the right ladder height is easy. For a stepladder deduct 600mm from the total height you want to reach, as it is unsafe to stand on the top two rungs.

For an extension ladder, multiply the height you want to reach by 1.04 then add an extra metre.

Reducing the risks

Every year about 3500 Australians are hospitalised after falling from a ladder. To minimise your risk of injury, never use a ladder for work over six metres from the ground or during wet and windy conditions.

Inspect your ladder before each use for signs of damage such as warped metal or cracks. If there’s any wear and tear it’s time to throw it out.

Get stability by installing a cleat behind the ladder’s feet, or by tying ropes to an anchored object nearby.

Once on the ladder, keep centred, never work directly above anyone and always work within arm’s reach.

TIP If there’s no easy way to ensure stability, have a second person hold the ladder steady for you.

Buying Guide

A-frame ladders

These multi-purpose all-rounders come in many shapes and sizes including single- and double-sided stepladders and extension ladders.

Single-sided ladders are lightweight and designed for quick odd jobs around the home. Double-sided ladders are stronger than their single-sided counterparts and offer dual side access.

Double-sided ladders are usually the best choice for general height access in and around the home. Use them for trimming a hedge or harvesting fruit in the garden, as well as painting and renovating.

Position the ladder with treads facing the work area and ensure the spreader braces are locked open.

TIP Never climb any further than the second rung from the top.

Platform stepladders

Platform stepladders provide a safe, stable area to work at heights for extended periods of time and often come with guard rails to prevent falls.

The platform should always be set at a level compatible with the height of the task.

TIP The guard rails are prone to damage during storage, so inspect them carefully prior to each use.

Extension ladders

This category includes straight and telescopic ladders. They are best used for exterior access to windows, roofs and gutters.

For maximum stability, set the feet of the ladder one metre back from the wall for every four metres of height. It should also extend one metre higher than the working area.

Multifold ladders

Suitable for use on stairs, these ladders are highly versatile with the ability to be used either as a stepladder, extension ladder or trestle unit.

TIP Select a model with slip-resistant feet for added safety

Portable scaffolding

This is the best option for household tasks that require a lot of movement at height, such as painting or cleaning gutters.

TIP Portable scaffolding should not be used for working at heights above six metres.