Roof ladders

How to use a roof ladder safely?

Working on a roof is dangerous, almost one in five deaths in construction relate to roof work. Not just homeowners or maintenance people who are cleaning and checking roofs. Professional roofers are also killed who have failed to adhere to roof safety procedures or not using the correct roof safety equipment. Such as working on a roof without scaffolding.

Deaths and injury are mainly caused by falling from roof edges or openings, through fragile materials or roof lights.

Any work at height is high risk, and to work on roof safely, roof safety systems must always be used.

Before using a roof ladder, you should have considered whether there is any other practical way the job could be done without working at height. 

You should also have considered other safer methods of working at height that avoid roof ladders. Such as mobile elevated work platforms, articulated boom lifts (cherry pickers) and scaffolding.

If there is no practical way to do the job any other way than using a roof ladder then how do you use it safely?         

What is a roof ladder?

A roof ladder is simply a suspended ladder with a ridge hook at the top which rests against the opposite side of a pitched roof. Bearers underneath the climbing face of the ladder support the ladder and also ensure there is sufficient distance between the ladder and the roof to give a firm hand and foot hold.

A roof ladder must not be used as a leaning ladder or bridge. Roof ladders are designed for use on a sloping roof they must not be used on flat roofs or very steeply pitched.

Make sure whichever type of roof ladder you choose that it conforms to a suitable standard (i.e. BS EN131).

single roof ladder      Extending roof ladder

Images for a single roof ladder and an extendable roof ladder.

What sort of roof is suitable to use a roof ladder?

A roof pitch angle of between 25 and 45 degrees. Do not use a roof ladder outside of this range.

The ladder must be the correct length for the task. Not too long so that it overhangs the roof edge by so much it may become unbalanced. Not too short that accessing the ladder requires stepping onto the roof itself.

The roof must be capable of supporting the weight of the ladder and user. Some sheet roofing such as polycarbonate and other lightweight roofing systems may not be suitable.

How to safely put a roof ladder in place and access it?

Normally, a leaning ladder will be used to allow the roof ladder to be carried up onto the roof. (Because if scaffolding or other safer methods than roof ladders could have been used - then they should have been!).

The leaning ladder should be constructed to a suitable standard (i.e. BS EN131). 

The leaning ladder should be used in accordance with schedule 6 of the work at height regulations. There are 4 main things to consider.

  1. The ground or surface on which the leaning ladder rests, needs to be stable, firm and strong enough to safely support the ladder when a load is applied. This is so that its rungs or steps remain horizontal when you are using it.

  2. The ladder needs to be stopped from slipping by securing the ladder at or near its top or bottom (fasten it with a good rope to something fixed for example). Or an anti-slip or other stability device. Or any other arrangement of equivalent effectiveness. (Such as someone else footing the ladder).

  3. The ladder needs to be long enough to extend above the roof ladder by 3 ladder rungs. This will give a good handhold when getting onto the roof ladder.

  4. The ladder should lean at an angle of 75 degrees to the ground. TIP. Use the four-to-one rule: for every four of height you have to climb, move the bottom one away from the wall.

To safely put the roof ladder into position. First, if using an adjustable length roof ladder, make sure it is the right length before taking it up the leaning ladder.

As you climb the leaning ladder take hold of the roof ladder near the top, ideally by the second or third rungs where it feels well balanced.

Carry the roof ladder up to eaves level use the running wheels to push the ladder up onto the roof before flipping it over onto its bearers.

Make sure the ridge hook (roof hook) is securely located against the opposite side of the pitched roof. If decorative type ridge tiles have been used then use a specially designed ridge or roof hook for this.

To provide added safety secure the roof ladder to the leaning ladder to create a complete ‘system’. Restraint harnesses and running lines are a good idea for additional safety.

Fall arrest system

The forces that can result from a fall when using restraint systems can be higher than the ridge hook will take. However it has been shown that by securing the roof ladder to a secured leaning ladder that a complete ‘system’ will arrest the fall and not cause the ridge tile or ridge hook to give way. So creating a complete ‘system’ is highly recommended.

Safely accessing a roof ladder.

Take extra care getting on and off the roof ladder. Make sure you have a firm grip on the leaning ladder before attempting to get on or off the roof ladder. (this is the reason to have 3 rungs of the leaning ladder higher than the roof ladder.)

Go up and down the roof ladder by crawling and gripping the rungs with your hands NOT the stiles (sides). Make sure you have a good foothold on the rungs. Take care not to stand on the roof surface. 

Maintain 3 points of contact and when coming down do it by crawling backwards on your front.



Keep your hands free when climbing up and down the ladder, use a suitable tool belt and DO NOT overload the ladder with tools or materials etc.

Be aware of any overhead power-lines - many roof ladders are made of aluminium a good conductor of electricity. Any contact with a power line could have a shocking end!!

Take account of the weather conditions, high winds, ice, strong sun and fog all bring extra risk to the job that may mean it has to be delayed for safety reasons. 

Wear Personal Protective Equipment

Appropriate trousers. Working on roofs means protecting legs from cuts, grazes and splinters, so shorts are not recommended.

Protective footwear. Steel toecaps (or equivalent) are needed to protect against dropped objects. Midsole protection is needed to prevent puncture or penetration by nails and other sharp materials. 

Safety helmets. There are two reasons to wear safety helmets when working on roofs. The first is to protect against anything that may fall off the roof, when climbing up or down, or when on the ground. The second is protection in case of a fall.

Safety glasses should always be worn in situations where material is likely to fly into the eyes. This includes all cases where cutting or sawing is taking place.

Knee pads should also be considered, to protect the knees from strain and damage, due to compression and wear on the joint.

Consider summer and winter working conditions

In summer, sunscreen should be used to protect against sunburn and skin damage, that in the long term could lead to skin cancer.

In winter, warm clothing, that gives freedom of movement should be worn – like jackets and fleeces, hats and gloves. Being cold increases the likelihood of falls, as it numbs sensation, causing people to lose their grip, stumble or trip.

For a working at height safety awareness course with a RoSPA certificate click here.