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Ladder Safety

Select the Appropriate Ladder

The most common cause of ladder accidents involves not selecting the right ladder for the job.

Photo of two men carrying a ladder. The ladder is on its side.When working indoors, a step stool or stepladder, platform or multi-purpose ladder is usually recommended. For outdoors, a taller step, multi-purpose or extension ladder is often more appropriate.

Always check the duty rating of the ladder you will be using and verify the maximum load. The "duty rating" is the maximum load capacity of the ladder. Do not assume that a longer ladder has a higher duty rating. There is no relationship between length and duty rating. Be sure to select a ladder designed to hold the necessary load, including the worker and equipment.

Duty Ratings:

  • Type IAA: Special-duty rating — 375 lbs.
  • Type IA: Extra heavy-duty rating — 300 lbs.
  • Type I: Heavy-duty rating — 250 lbs.
  • Type II: Medium-duty rating — 225 lbs. (not recommended at UWO)
  • Type III: Light-duty rating — 200 lbs. (not recommended at UWO)

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requires that a duty rating sticker be placed on the side of every ladder so users can determine if they have the correct type ladder for each task/job.

Use a fiberglass ladder if there is a possibility of working near electricity or overhead power lines. Fiberglass is electrically non-conducive. Fiberglass ladders are also strong and lightweight, but they are not impervious to the elements. Users should check fiberglass ladders for signs of damage such as discoloration or cracks before using.

Inspect Ladder Prior to Use

Always check for damage prior to using any ladder:

  1. Make sure feet are not broken or malfunctioning and that the slip-resistant pads are secure.
  2. Inspect the ladder for cracks, bends and splits on the side rails, rungs and steps.
  3. Make sure both rung locks are working properly.
  4. Test the rope and pulley. Examine the rope for any signs of fraying. Make sure the pulley is operating smoothly.
  5. Ensure all bolts and rivets are secure.
  6. Make sure the ladder is free of foreign materials such as oil and grease.
  7. If using a stepladder, make sure the spreader braces are secure and working properly.
  8. Aluminum or steel ladders should be inspected for rough burrs and sharp edges.

Proper Use of Ladder

Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for proper use of the ladder. Before starting work, check that the safety feet are positioned properly to prevent slipping. Always place the ladder on a stable surface, clearing debris if necessary.

Make sure the ladder steps are clean and dry and that there are no damaged steps. Check the ladder spreaders and make sure they are locked in place. Wear shoes with slip-resistant soles.

Set–up carefully:

  1. Use a barricade or guard if you will be working in an area with pedestrian traffic to avoid collisions
  2. Lock or block any nearby door that opens toward you
  3. Keep area around base of ladder clutter-free
  4. Make sure the base of the ladder rests on a solid surface
  5. Position a straight ladder at a 4 to 1 ratio (base of ladder should be 1’ away from the vertical surface for every 4 feet of the ladder’s length to support you)
  6. Avoid shifting by tying your ladder down as close to the support point as possible
  7. Always raise extension ladders so that the upper section overlaps and rests on the bottom section. The upper section must always overlap on the climbing side of the extension ladder.


Make sure the ladder is long enough for the job.

Climb only as high as the 2nd tread from the top on a step ladder and the 3rd rung from the top on a straight ladder. When working on a roof, the ladder should extend 3’ beyond the support point. When using an extension ladder, place the ladder top so that both rails are fully supported. The support area should be at least 12" wide on both sides of the ladder.

Hold onto the ladder carefully, ensuring that you don't reach out too far to either side. Don't try to move a ladder while you're on it. If the ladder is not positioned properly, climb down and reposition the ladder closer to your work.

Face the ladder when ascending or descending, keeping your body centered between the rails. Both hands should be placed on ladder rails, not on rungs, maintaining a firm grip when ascending and descending. Maintain 3-point contact at all times. This means that both feet and one hand or one foot and both hands must be in contact with the ladder at all times. If you’re using tools, raise and lower them with a hand line or use a tool belt.

Do not sit on the ladder and never sit or stand on the top cap of a step ladder — it is not designed to carry your weight. Make sure that you transport the ladder properly. Ladders should be carried parallel to the ground.

Extension ladders should have proper overlap, depending on their length:

  • Three foot overlap for 32-foot ladder
  • Four foot overlap for 32- to 36-foot ladder
  • Five foot overlap for 36- to 48-foot ladder
  • Six foot overlap for 48-foot ladder


When using an extension ladder, always lower the ladder before carrying or moving it. Because long ladders can be unwieldy, whenever possible have someone help carry and set up the ladder.

Never push or pull anything sideways while on a ladder. This puts a side load on the ladder and can cause it to tip out from under you.

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