Step up safety

18 May 2023

Working at height can be risky enough, without the additional danger of poor-quality ladders. Here, Peter Bennett explains why the Government must clamp down on online marketplaces selling substandard imported telescopic ladders.

THE LADDER Association has been highlighting the real and serious issue of the availability and use of substandard imported telescopic ladders on the UK market for many years. 

Yet, despite ongoing campaigning, the issue is not improving. There is simply not enough being done to remove these unsafe products from sale, particularly from online platforms, and take appropriate enforcement action against rogue manufacturers, suppliers and sellers. The Ladder Association calls for urgent action.

Market surveillance activity

Our latest research follows on from the telescopic ladder market surveillance study we commissioned last year, in partnership with East of England Trading Standards Association and Suffolk Trading Standards Imports Team, which found that over 80% of commercially-available telescopic ladders tested, with an emphasis on those purchased from online platforms, failed to meet the minimum safety requirements designed to keep users safe. Worse still, over half of the failed ladders were marked and sold as ‘compliant’ in a deliberate attempt to mislead consumers.

In a bid to see if the platforms have addressed the issue, the Ladder Association recently re-tested a proportion of the same products from last year’s study, still on sale via the world’s best-known online retailers, Amazon and eBay, and popular online marketplace 

Following identical testing procedures, every set of telescopic ladders again failed the required safety tests, meaning they are non-compliant and dangerous, and proving that the earlier failures were not ‘one-offs’. Our latest study also found over 80% of the ladders re-tested claimed to be compliant with product standard EN 131 – but not one of the products met the standard.

While we want to be clear that there are manufacturers producing ladders that meet the safety standards, our studies showed that the telescopic ladders we tested that are being sold by some of the world’s biggest online platforms, fell well below basic safety requirements. Many of these ladders appeared fit for purpose and some even displayed bogus compliance labelling, giving customers false assurance. 

Working at height can be risky enough, without the additional danger of poor-quality ladders - every 11 minutes in the UK, someone attends A&E after sustaining an injury involving a ladder1. A fall from height can cause life changing injury, and in some cases, can even be fatal. That’s why we must urgently address the issue.

Consumer trust

Our studies found worrying levels of substandard, non-compliant telescopic ladders for sale on Amazon, eBay and OnBuy. These online stores and marketplaces are booming, particularly after the pandemic, where consumers can order with a couple of clicks and have the product in their hands the very next day. Research shows that consumers rarely consider the safety of the products2 they’re adding to their baskets, but why should they? They believe they’re buying from a trusted international retailer (the platform) and assume there’s an effective product safety system in place in the UK to protect them. But unfortunately, we know the reality can be very different.

Lack of regulation

Unlike the traditional high street store, online marketplaces are not recognised as actors in the supply chain, so the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 don’t apply to them. As it stands, online marketplaces selling products supplied by third-party sellers, have no responsibility for preventing unsafe goods being sold on their platforms, and no legal obligation to inform consumers if they have purchased unsafe goods. They place the responsibility for safety firmly with the seller. 

But what happens when a brand is of little or no value? When the manufacturer or supplier changes their company name, product name or business address so frequently to evade the authorities because they simply do not care? Unfortunately, it results in thousands of consumers buying and using ladders that are unsafe, non-compliant, and in worst cases, deadly. 

Rogue manufacturers and suppliers based anywhere in the world, have free rein to sell unsafe products direct to unsuspecting consumers in the UK. Some of the ladder samples we tested in our surveillance studies arrived in the UK, via shipping containers, already marked with fulfilment courier barcodes and ready for dispatch to the customer from a distribution centre. There is no quality inspection on arrival. There is no ‘importer’ undertaking their legal duties in the UK. In these cases, the first person to look at the product after it left the factory, is the consumer when they open the box - who assumes and expects the product to be safe to use. Our studies also showed that markings on the box, the product or the website listing can be meaningless – and in in most cases the product was never designed to comply from the outset. 

It’s time to step in

The Ladder Association firmly believes that importers, manufacturers, suppliers and retailers should not only have a duty of care, but a legal responsibility, to only place safe products on the market for consumers to use. 

Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the UK Government now has full control over its product safety laws and we believe the Product Safety Review provides an opportunity for the UK government to lead the way in making online marketplaces safer. We were joint signatories, alongside the British Toy and Hobby Association and Electrical Safety First, in an open letter to Government urging them to immediately release the Review, which is expected to contain proposals to protect consumers from buying dangerous products from online marketplaces. 

We welcome the recent Round Table called by Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake where he told online marketplaces they must do more to keep unsafe products off their platforms3. But, until the Product Safety Review is released, consumers are being put at risk daily. Until the Government steps in to make regulatory change to hold suppliers and online platforms accountable for ensuring the products they sell are compliant and safe to use, these platforms will continue to facilitate the sale of dangerous products to consumers.

Our call for action:

  1. The Government immediately release the long-awaited Product Safety Review and address the sale of dangerous goods from online marketplaces once and for all

  2. Introduce regulatory change to hold suppliers and online platforms accountable for selling safe products

  3. Widen the powers of the Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS) to obligate online marketplaces to monitor ladders offered for sale on their platforms and stipulate that all products listed meet the General Product Safety Regulations 2005, have appropriate certification, and are safe for use

  4. Empower the OPSS to take representative enforcement action against the online marketplaces

  5. Strengthen consumers’ rights to bring civil actions against the online marketplaces.


1 Hospital data from NHS England, NHS Wales and Public Health Scotland


Peter Bennett OBE, is executive director at the Ladder Association To read the Ladder Association’s latest Telescopic Ladder Surveillance Survey Report, visit:

Guidance from the Ladder Association when buying ladders online or in store:

• Take some time to research before you buy. You can carry out a quick online check of the company or brand to check their business location and visibility in the market. If they don’t have a UK/EU address, then it can make it much more difficult to contact them if you have an issue after you buy.

• Check product reviews. These are a great way of hearing first-hand from other consumers and often give valuable insight in the product quality, mainly if it falls below standard. But beware, some companies and brands post fake positive reviews, so read them carefully, note where the reviewer is based or how many reviews they have previously posted.

• Don’t make decisions solely on price. But, if something is very cheap, you should question why. That’s not to say it’s poor quality, but it’s certainly a prompt to make you do a bit more homework. Genuine quality products can cost more to manufacture due to the enhanced testing and cost of materials, but equally, a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean quality.

• Don’t just trust the big brand name of online platforms. Remember, online platforms take little or no responsibility for the quality or safety of the products sold on their platforms and place the responsibility for safety firmly with the seller. Don’t assume product safety and compliance checks have been carried out by them before they placed them online for sale.

• Don’t assume physical stores sell only safe products. They could knowingly - or unknowingly - be stocking products that don’t meet product standard EN 131-6. Check the labelling for print quality or spelling errors, check the product quality as best you can, and speak to the retailer themselves if you have any questions.

• Avoid ladders that are CE Marked. Despite what you might think, ladders cannot be CE marked, so avoid any that bear that marking.

• Buy from a Ladder Association member. Members are committed to high standards of safety, and by joining the Association, they pledge to only make or sell ladders that comply with EN 131 (or international equivalents) and are certified by a third-party Conformity Assessment Body. 

• When you receive your ladder, check it. Check the product, the instruction manual (every ladder should come with one) and the labelling on the ladder itself.

• If you think the ladder is unsafe, dangerous or not made to standard, don’t use it!You should then contact your local Trading Standards team or report via our website.