British scientists have discovered that getting someone to hold the bottom of a ladder while you climb it could do more harm than good.

Researchers at Loughborough University conducted 780 tests while working on a 200-page report into ladder safety that was commissioned by a Government safety watchdog.

The scientists decided that the age-old practice of holding your mate's ladder at the bottom could cause more accidents if the wrong technique was used. This was partly because "footing" the ladder - steadying it at the bottom with a foot - gave a ladder-climber a false sense of security.

The study concluded there were four main types of ladder accident.

These were: ladder sliding across a wall; ladder falling backwards; ladder "flipping" on one leg; and ladder bottom slipping. This last type of accident often caused death or severe wrist injury, according to data held by the Health and Safety Executive which funded the study.

The research unit's Laurence Clift said "multi-directional force transducers" were used to record data as 52 volunteers climbed up ladders, performed tasks at the top, and climbed down again. Other volunteers were photographed footing the ladders at the bottom.

Mr Clift said footing was "ineffectual against failure modes affecting the tops of ladders" and "unnecessary" for stopping the bottom sliding away from the wall.

Footing could stop the ladder flipping sideways, but was "highly dependent" on the technique used.

Resting one foot on the bottom rung could make the ladder less stable.

The best way of footing was to stand on the bottom rung of the ladder with feet spaced well apart while keeping as still as possible.

Accident Compensation Corporation figures show that step-ladder accidents cost New Zealand $17 million a year.

Last year the corporation dealt with 973 fresh claims from step-ladder injuries and 684 ongoing claims from earlier years.

Occupational Safety and Health spokeswoman Kathryn O'Sullivan said the service would educate workplaces about ladder safety this year.

OSH was prosecuting a ladder supply firm over the death of a man in Hamilton last April, she said.

There have been at least nine other ladder deaths since 1998.

How ladders collapse

Flip Failure Mode (ladder spins around)

Top Slip Failure Mode (ladder falls sideways)

Base Slip Failure Mode (legs slip on floor)

Top Contact Failure Mode (ladder falls backwards)

Source: Loughborough University ergonomics and safety research unit