How much weight can a step ladder hold?
New ladder regulations 2019
Ladders come in many forms, types, quality, and strength, not to mention cost. The classification of a ladder usually consists of a sticker on the side stile. This will be a visible confirmation of its limitations of use. Ladder classifications have recently changed for the better.
This change is not only for the working tradesperson but for the home user or DIY enthusiast also making them much safer. One type of ladder this especially relates to are extending aluminium ladders. You can read our further article on these types of extendable aluminium ladders here.
Before the recent change, ladder classifications consisted of Class 3 (BS2037/BS1129) for domestic use, EN 131 for trade and light industrial use and Class 1 (BS2037/BS1129) for heavy duty and industrial use.
These three classifications increase gradually in strength and robustness depending on their use. The change in UK ladder regulations has basically phased out the least robust Class 3 for domestic use and now consist of only two classifications.
These current ladder classifications are covered by EN 131 and are now classed as Professional and Non-professional. These relate mostly to aluminium ladders in which we have another article that drills down further into why aluminium is good for ladders. Read our article on aluminium ladders here.
The changes to the ladder classification system have come from a drive to improve the safety of the user and to simplify the buying choice a little, limiting the choices to only two classes. The drive to improve safety includes additional measures for a ladder’s stability, slip, its durability, and strength.
The additional requirements for strength are related to its position when it’s in use, which the European Commission hoped would reduce the amount of ladder related accidents. More ladder categories will be subject to change in the near future.
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Class 1 Ladder
A ladder labelled as Class 1 will be from the old classification system and be suitable for heavy duty and industrial use. Typically, a Class 1 ladder will have a duty rating of 130Kgs and a maximum load of 175Kgs.
The main difference between the duty rating and the maximum load rating will be that the duty rating is a Safe Working Load, and the maximum load is the weight of the person and the weight of any equipment combined.
Before the change, ladders have also been classified by their Duty Rating by British Standards. These duty ratings were based on the frequency of use and the environment in which a ladder was used. The identifying sticker will be dark blue in colour and clearly be marked Class 1, Industrial and with its maximum load limit.
What is a Class 3 ladder?
A ladder labelled as Class 3 will also be from the older classification system and would be suitable for light domestic use only. As a rule, these should really be avoided if you can as more robust ladders can be found at similar prices.
The duty rating on these entry level ladders are 95Kgs and have a maximum load of 125Kgs. Like the Class 1 ladders, they will also have an identifying sticker that will be grey in colour and be clearly marked Class III, Domestic and have their maximum load limit.
Class EN 131 Ladders
The final ladder in the old triple classification system is the EN131 which is the classification for “commercial” use. This fits in between the lower “Domestic” class and the higher “Industrial” class. The duty rating on these mid-level ladders are 115Kgs and have a maximum load of 150Kgs. Like the Class 1 and Class III ladders, they will also have an identifying sticker that will be green in colour and be clearly marked EN131, Commercial and have their maximum load limit.
BS EN 131
BS EN 131 is the new revised standard for ladder classification. Sometimes referred to EN 131, BS EN 131 is the British version of the standard. The European Commission was basically not entirely happy with many parts of the previous standard and issued a mandate to be revised and updated. The result was to improve a ladders stability, slip, durability, and strength when the ladder is in its position of use.
Research indicated that these were the main areas of failure, and any improvements would hopefully reduce or even prevent many ladder related accidents. The picture here relates to a fibreglass ladder variant which also need to comply. You can read more about why you might need a fibreglass or GRP ladder in our article on fibreglass ladders here.
One of the main revisions of BS EN 131 is that the classifications have reduced from three down to two and the minimum duty rating for both classes are 150Kgs. This raises the minimum safety loading from the Class III “Domestic” ladder of 95Kgs quite significantly, the previous “Commercial” class from 115Kgs and the Class 1 “Industrial” ladder marginally from 130Kgs.
Raising this minimum baseline to 150Kgs will make all ladders more robust. The two new classes are now only known as “Professional” and “Non-Professional” which makes things agreeably easier. The Professional class is for the workplace and the Non-Professional is for domestic use.
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Can I still buy and use the older class ladders?
The answer is yes!
The new product standards do not apply retrospectively and only apply to newly manufactured ladders. As long as you purchase the correct classification of ladder for the purpose it’s intended for, you can still get the older classed ladders. They will be perfectly safe if used within their recommended limits.
Suppliers will still realistically have lots of stock to sell. If you also already own older classed ladders, as long as they are in good order, there is no need to change them just because the standards have been revised and withdrawn.
If you are a business owner or contractor in which most of your work is carried out on construction sites, there may be a requirement to change your ladders to the newest classification if a main contractor requires it. It may be company policy but not necessarily HSE Policy.
From a domestic point of view, we at Best Ladder Access would recommend that any old Class III ladders are not used. We have found that this class of ladder does not give you the confidence when climbing as a ladder should.
We feel that it’s worth spending a little bit more and getting a set that will be more robust. Eventually, as the older classification ladders are disposed of and the newer classification ladders are produced, a gradual transition will take place until the only purchases you’ll be able to make will be the newer classification.
What are the main differences between the old and new standards?
In this paragraph, we’ll briefly outline the main improvements to the standards. The main split is with leaning ladders and free-standing ladders like ‘A’ frame step ladders.
Testing includes what is known within the industry as a ‘base slip test’, ‘lateral deflection’, ‘bend test’, ‘strength test’ and finally for ‘torsion’.
The base slip test basically ensures that the feet of a leaning ladder do not move more than 40mm when under load of 150Kgs which if you remember is the new minimum load to start from.
The lateral deflection test will test how much the ladder will bend whilst on its side. Depending on the length of the ladder, the amount of deflection must not exceed a calculated amount.
The bend test will see how much the ladder will bend when laid flat and fully extended. Loads are applied in the centre and the ladder mustn’t deflect any more than a calculated amount.
The strength test as its name infers tests the strength of a leaning ladder when fully extended. Static loads are applied which are 275Kgs for a Professional class ladder or 230Kgs for a Non-Professional ladder. The main criteria here is to confirm that all of the ladder’s components are functioning correctly after the load is removed.
The final leaning ladder test is the torsion test. Again, as its name implies, it tests the ladder for how much twist it will endure.
Free-Standing ladder tests
These tests include a ‘Durability test’, ‘Opening restraint and hinge test’ and a ‘torsion test’.
The durability test is quite cool. The new minimum load of 150Kgs is applied to the top and middle rungs to simulate the ladder being used constantly. This is repeated approximately 10,000 times for a non-professional class step ladder and approximately 50,000 for a professional class ladder.
The opening restraints and hinge test ensures that the hinge mechanisms will stand the test of time after being opened and loaded constantly. The main criteria here is to ensure that there is no deformation in ladder under load.
The torsion test is the final test. This will determine how much a step ladder will twist under load.
So, the new ladder classifications are now with us. They effectively reduced the number of classes from three down to two. The previous classes were Class 1 (Industrial), EN131 (Commercial) and Class III (Domestic). The two new classifications are now Professional and Non-Professional in which their basic starting load strength has been increased to 150 Kgs.
The purpose of the change is to make the choice of ladder easier and to raise the robustness of the lighter classification in an attempt to reduce the amount of ladder related accidents.
Further reading and resources on the new ladder classifications can be found here.