Stairways and ladders are a major source of injuries and fatalities among construction workers. OSHA estimates that there are 25,000 injuries and as many as 36 fatalities per year due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction.

Check out the following regarding Ladder Safety:

Taking proper precautions with ladders begins with selecting the correct ladder.

Ladder Selection Criteria

  • The type of work the ladder will be used for.
  • The weight the ladder must carry.
  • The condition of the ladder.
  • The physical work environment.

Types of Ladders

Most ladders, usually made of wood, metal, reinforced plastic and fiberglass, sold for light use are Type III light-duty ladders. These are rated for a maximum load of 200 pounds (user plus materials). If the ladder needs to carry more weight than this, use the table below to aid your selection:


Weight Rating

Duty Rating

Type 1AA

375 lbs

Super Heavy Duty

Type 1A

300 lbs

Extra Heavy Duty

Type 1

250 lbs

Heavy Duty Industrial

Type 11

225 lbs

Medium Duty Commercial

Type 111

200 lbs

Light Duty Household

Note: Most ladders will be labeled with their duty rating.

Portable Ladder Types

Stepladders - A self-supporting portable ladder, non-adjustable in length, having flat steps and hinged back. Stepladders longer than 20 feet shall not be used.

Straight (single) ladders - A non self-supporting portable ladder, non adjustable in length, consisting of one section. Straight (single) ladders longer than 30 feet shall not be used.

Extension ladders - A non self-supporting portable ladder adjustable in length. Extension ladders longer than 60 feet shall not be used.

Keep in mind that the length of a ladder is different from its usable length. The height these ladders can safely reach is reduced by the angle at which the ladder must be set up.

Inspecting a Ladder

When inspecting a ladder, there are certain defects and features that you should look for:

  • On metal ladders, check for sharp edges, dents and bent steps, rungs or rails.
  • Wooden ladders should be free of splits, cracks, chips and all but small, tight knots.
  • No ladder should have loose rungs or steps.
    • Steps on wooden step ladders should be reinforced with metal rods or angle braces securely attached to the step and side rail.
    • The bottom step of all stepladders should have metal angle braces. The stability of an individual stepladder can be checked by standing on the first step from the bottom and twisting the ladder. If it feels unsteady, choose another ladder.

Safe Ladder Usage

  • All metal ladders should have slip-resistant rubber or plastic feet.
  • Metal stepladders should have slip-resistant steps. Some wooden stepladders also have this feature.
  • When using a ladder near power lines, use a wooden or fiberglass ladder since metal ladders conduct electricity.
  • Never splice two short ladders together to make a long ladder.
  • Ladders shall never be used in the horizontal position as scaffolds or work platforms.
  • Read and follow all instructions accompanying the ladder, set up the ladder properly, and use good sense while working on the ladder.

Ladder Setup

  • To raise a ladder, brace the lower end against a wall and then grasp the top rung with both hands. Raise the top end and walk underneath the ladder, moving down the rungs until the ladder is vertical.
  • When using an extension ladder, raise it to the desired height, being sure the locks engage properly on both sides of the ladder.
  • To position the ladder properly, place it against the wall so the distance between the wall and the base of the ladder is 1/4 of the length along the ladder from the base to its point of support.
  • You should not stand on the top three rungs.
  • Since the rungs on ladders are normally one foot apart, the approximate distance is easy to compute.
  • If the ladder is to be used for getting onto a roof or other platform, there should be 3 feet of ladder (at least three rungs) extending beyond the edge of the roof.
  • The ground under the ladder should be both level and firm. Large flat wooden boards placed under the ladder can level a ladder on uneven ground or give a ladder better footing on soft ground.
  • If possible, secure the ladder. One way to do this is to have someone hold the bottom of the ladder.

Points to remember when raising and positioning a ladder are:

  • Never use a ladder in a strong wind.
  • The point where the ladder rests against the wall should be flat and firm.
  • A ladder should not be placed in front of a door that is not locked, blocked or guarded.
  • Before positioning the ladder, check for insect or bird nests under the eaves; the top of a ladder is no place to discover a wasp nest.
  • Face the ladder when climbing or descending and use both hands.
  • Mount the ladder from the center, not from the side.
  • Be very careful when using a metal ladder around electrical wires or equipment. Many fatalities occur when a metal ladder brushes against power lines while being moved.
  • Use only double-insulated or properly grounded electrical tools on a metal ladder.
  • Tools should be carried in the pockets, in a bag attached to a belt, or raised and lowered by rope.
  • The area around the top and bottom of ladder must be kept clear.
  • Be sure that the soles of your shoes are clean and dry.
  • Work facing the ladder, holding on with one hand. If it is ever necessary to work with both hands, hook one leg over the rung.
  • Don't lean too far to the side while working. A good general guide is to keep your body centered between the rails of the ladder. Instead of leaning to the side, get down and move the ladder.
  • In case of sudden dizziness or a panicky feeling, bow your head, drape both arms over the rung in front of you, close your eyes, and wait until the feeling passes.
  • Do not use a ladder as a scaffold or for any purpose except what was intended.
  • When two or more ladders are used to reach a work area, they must be offset with a landing or platform between the ladders.


Many of the suggestions for using straight and extension ladders also apply to stepladders. When using a stepladder:

  • Erect a stepladder only on a flat level surface.
  • Never use a stepladder as a straight ladder.
  • Do not step on the top platform or top step.
  • Do not place it on a table or any similar platform for added height.
  • Before climbing a stepladder, make sure that its legs are fully extended and the spreader locked. The locking device on some ladders may present a pinching hazard, so keep fingers clear when setting up the ladder.
  • Do not use a stepladder for getting onto a roof or other platform.
  • Do not step on the bucket shelf or attempt to climb or stand on the rear section supports.

Storage and Maintenance

  • Ladders should be stored in a sheltered area.
  • Wooden ladders are affected by exposure to heat combined with dampness and need a dry, well-ventilated storage area.
  • A wooden ladder used outdoors should be shellacked, varnished or given two coats of linseed oil as a protective coating. Some new ladders may already have protective coatings; this will vary with the manufacturer.
  • Never paint a wooden ladder; the paint can hide defects.
  • Straight and extension ladders should be stored horizontally on racks or hooks with support points at the top, middle, and bottom of the ladder to prevent sagging and warping.
  • Inspect a ladder before each use for wear and damage. This is particularly important after a long period of storage or after a ladder has been dropped. Have repair work done only by a competent repair shop. If there is major damage, discard the ladder.
  • Do not attempt to straighten a bent metal ladder.
  • Never use a damaged ladder.
  • Ladders are to be kept free of oil, grease, wet paint, and other slip hazards.
  • Periodically tighten the reinforcing rods under the steps of a stepladder, the spreader hinges and other hardware.
  • Finally, no matter what kind of ladder you are using, never leave a raised ladder unattended. It could fall unexpectedly and injure someone.