WHS regulations require building owners, facility managers and employers to ensure the safety of their workers by installing correct, adequate and compliant safety equipment. By ensuring compliance in their safety equipment, they can assure safety onsite and avoid any potential legal consequences.

When are ladders, steps, stairs and guardrails required?

When it comes to ensuring that your roof access and fall protection systems are compliant, knowing which equipment to use and install when and where is imperative. Correct system design and selection is paramount to ensure your workers are executing their tasks in a safe environment.

Ladders, steps, stairs and guardrails are regulated by Australian Standard AS/NZS1657:2018, which means all of the requirements under this standard must be adhered to when designing roof access and fall protection systems. Selecting the right system from ladders, steps, stairs or guardrails will depend on a few factors including frequency of use and varying roof inclines.

Guidelines to selection of safety equipment:

0 to 20 degrees

A 600mm wide walkway mounted using the appropriate fixing method is recommended for this incline. It is important to comply with the manufacturer's recommendations with regard to spanning requirements to prevent flexing, which could cause the walkway to become loose or dislodged. Even within this degree of incline, there are additional requirements that must be complied with:

  • Inclines greater than 7 degrees: Walkways must be levelled when installed across the fall of the roof.
  • Inclines greater than 10 degrees: Walkways installed along the incline of the roof require cleats. Cleat spacing to prevent foot slippage is dependent on the slope of the walkway.
  • Inclines greater than 12 degrees: Walkways require handrails to protect the worker from a potential fall.

20 to 45 degrees

Since this incline is too steep for a walkway, a stairway with intermediate landings is required, depending on the length of the system. Stairways are ideal for situations when frequent access for maintenance is required, such as servicing mechanical plant and equipment, for instance. Ladders should only be used if stairways are not a feasible solution.

45 to 60 degrees

Access equipment should not be installed or used on this angle of slope, states the Standard, which also classes it as the ‘unsafe zone’. This incline is too steep for a stairway and too shallow for a ladder.

60 to 70 degrees

Step ladders should be used for this degree of slope where treads and handrails are required to be fitted. This system is perfect for environments when only periodic access for maintenance is required.

70 to 90 degrees

Rung ladders should be installed at the preferred angle of 75 degrees. If the ladder extends beyond 6 metres, intermediate landings should also be implemented. Fall protection is required by means of a cage or fall arrest lifeline where they exceed 3.5 metres.

For further information on which types of access system to select for your application, please obtain a copy of Standard AS/NZS 1657:2018 from SAI Global.