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MSJC > Safety > Ladder Safety

Ladder Safety

The brief time needed to move your ladder and to set up and secure it properly can prevent a painful and costly accident. Listed below are some practices that will help you avoid danger:

  • Make sure the ladder is appropriate for the job and free of damage. Metal ladders should never be used near power lines or when doing electrical work. Replace any ladder that is bent, broken or otherwise damaged.
  • The ladder must be tall enough for the job.
  • Straight or extension ladders should have the base a distance one fourth the height away from the wall. If the ladder is used to reach a roof or other elevated surface, it should extend at least three feet above the roof for safe access. Never stand on the top steps of a step ladder.
  • Make sure the ladder has firm footing to keep it from slipping or falling. If the footing is not secure, lash (tie) the ladder to a secure object.
  • Always keep your body between the ladder rails. Stretching and leaning to the side has resulted in countless falls. Move the ladder so you can safely reach your work.
  • Always face the ladder and use both hands when climbing up or down. Carry your tools and other materials in a tool belt or pouch, or use a rope to raise and lower them.
  • Protect your investment (ladders are expensive) and your life by storing ladders where they are protected from the weather and other damage.

Did you know that falls are the leading cause of deaths in and around the home? According to the National Safety Council, over 6,000 people die from falls in and around the home each year, and many times that number suffer disabling injuries. The accidents include slipping on wet or icy surfaces, falling down stairs, falling off the roof and falling from ladders. In fact, more than 30,000 people are injured each year by falls involving ladders. Most of these accidents occur because the victims violate the basic rules of ladder safety. Offered below are five rules for ladder safety, with emphasis on stepladders and straight ladders.


There are many types of ladders available, each intended for a specific purpose. In addition, they may be of wood, aluminum or fiberglass construction and designed for light to industrial use. For typical homeowner applications two types are most common-straight ladders (single or extension) and step ladders. Regardless of the type or construction, be sure the ladder has a label certifying that it complies with specifications of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and that it is listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Be sure the ladder is long enough to work from comfortably and sturdy enough to withstand repeated use. Aluminum is a good choice of construction since it is lightweight and is not affected by weather as much as wood. However, wood or fiberglass ladders are not as "shaky" as aluminum ladders.

If the work involves possible contact with sources of electrical current, an aluminum ladder is not suitable since it conducts electricity. In these places a dry wood or fiberglass ladder is needed.


Any ladder can develop a problem which can render it unsafe. Each time you use a ladder, inspect it for loose or damaged rungs, steps, rails or braces. Also check for loose screws, bolts, hinges and other hardware. Make certain the spreaders on stepladders can be locked in place and that the ladder has safety feet which will provide more stability and reduce the chances of the ladder slipping while you work.

If the ladder has any type of defect, it must be repaired or the ladder must be replaced. Never use a ladder which is defective. A painted wood ladder may have defects which are hidden by the paint. Painting a wood ladder is not recommended. However, it can be treated with clear materials such as varnish and wood preservatives.

The base of a straight ladder should be one foot out of every four of height to the point of support.RULE 3: SET UP THE LADDER WITH CARE

No matter how safe the ladder is, if it is placed in a dangerous location or set up improperly an accident is bound to happen. If you must set the ladder in a traffic area, use a barricade or guard to prevent collisions. Lock or block any nearby door that opens toward you. The area around the base should be kept uncluttered, and the ladder should be set on a solid, level surface.

Stepladders should be fully opened with the spreaders locked. Straight ladders should be placed at a four-to-one ratio. This means the base of the ladder should be one foot away from the wall or other vertical surface for every four feet of height to the point of support.

If you plan to climb onto a roof or platform from a ladder, be sure the ladder extends above the edge at least three feet.

If possible, secure a straight ladder as close to the point of support as possible to prevent shifting. Never lean a ladder against an unstable surface.


Always face the ladder and hold on with both hands. If you need tools, carry them in a tool belt or raise and lower them with a hand line.

To avoid slipping, always check the rungs and the bottoms of your shoes for slippery substances. You may wish to apply a slip-resistant material to the steps of a metal ladder to provide better footing.


Always hold on with one hand and never reach too far to either side or to the rear. To maintain your balance, keep your belt buckle between the ladder rails. Climbing too high can also lead to accidents, so never climb higher than the second step from the top on a stepladder or the third from the top on a straight ladder.

Ladder Transportation

When one man is carrying a ladder by hand, the front of the ladder should be kept high enough to clear a man's head, especially around corners, in aisles and through doorways.

Reasonable care should be taken to avoid damaging a ladder at all times. Do not drop, toss or throw a ladder. Use side stakes when hauling to prevent lateral swing and tie the ladder down securely. Drive slowly over rough terrain.


Ladders should be stored in well ventilated areas and in a manner that will prevent sagging and warping. Straight ladders are best stored in flat racks or on wall brackets. Step ladders should be stored in the vertical, closed position.

Wood ladders should be protected from moisture, insect damage and excessive heat. Moisture and sun exposure are the two main enemies of wood ladders, and can rapidly shorten the useful life of a ladder.