We’ve been climbing up and down ladders since we discovered the slide and monkey bars during our first visit to the playground in elementary school. With all that experience under our belts, climbing a ladder at work should be a piece of cake, right?

Well, not exactly.

Like any tool, having the right ladder leads to higher productivity and a job well done. However, using the wrong kind of ladder at your facility can lead to serious injury or even death. Taking the time to choose the right ladder makes good, safe sense for everyone.

Stepladders

A stepladder is a common fixture in workplaces and on job sites. Its convenient, hinged design makes it easy to carry and store. While a stepladder’s height is fixed, it comes in a variety of heights, ranging from four to twenty feet.

Stepladders are intended for one worker’s use, and it’s unsafe for more than one person to be on it. However, if the job requires two people to work together, double-sided ladders, which have two sets of steps, offer a very convenient solution.

Another variation of the stepladder is the platform ladder. It’s similar to a stepladder, yet features a large, stable work surface to stand on. The platform provides more room to stand on, but should still only be used by one person at a time.

Stepladders should be used on firm level surfaces with the spreader bars fully open and locked. A stepladder should never be leaned against a wall and climbed.

Extension Ladders

An extension ladder offers more versatility in length than a stepladder. It consists of two or more sections, which adjust the ladder to different lengths. The sections must be assembled so that the sliding upper section is on top of the lower section, and the lock assembly must be secured.

These ladders can be used by only one person at a time. Measures must be taken to ensure that they can’t be accidentally moved or displaced. To accomplish this, extension ladders can be tied off at the top or bottom.

Proper placement requires that the working length of the extension ladder be four times the horizontal distance from the ladder’s base to the structure.

Ladders are generally constructed of three different materials:

  • Aluminum – which is lighter in weight
  • Fiberglass – ideal for use when there’s a chance for contact with electricity
  • Wood – which should never be painted, as painting can hide dangerous defects

Safe Practices

Workers should always be trained in the proper use, placement, and handling of ladders and must set up the ladder according to the manufacturer’s safety instructions and warnings.

Before selecting a ladder, be sure to determine the necessary duty rating. The worker’s weight plus the weight of any tools that are carried must be less than the duty rating specified by the manufacturer.

Inspecting the ladder for missing or rickety steps, rungs, or cleats, faulty parts, and broken side rails is a critical first step to safe use. If a ladder is damaged, it must be replaced or removed from service until repaired.

Helpful Tips for Safe Use

  • Ensure that the ladder is free of oil, grease, and other hazards that could cause slips (see 6 Tips for Safer Walking-Working Surfaces for more advice on preventing slips)
  • Make sure there are no wires overhead
  • Ascend and descend while facing the ladder, maintain a confident hold, and firmly set one foot before moving the other, maintaining three points of contact
  • Use a tool belt or tow rope to carry tools
  • Wear shoes with non-slip soles that are free of mud, oil, or anything slippery
  • The worker’s body should be centered between the rails while maintaining a firm grip
  • Never over-reach
  • Don’t stand above the second step from the top of a stepladder or the fourth rung from the top of an extension ladder
  • Ladders must not be placed on boxes, barrels, or other unstable objects
  • Ladders shouldn’t be placed in front of closed doors that could open toward the ladder. These doors must be left open, locked, or guarded
  • Never attempt to move a ladder without first climbing down and getting off
  • Don’t use ladders in storms or high winds

Conclusion

Choosing the right ladder is a key component in providing a safe and productive work environment. Remembering to practice safe ladder use helps reduce accidents and injuries on the job site.