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Ladder Safety Rules

By Marion Grant | Reviewed by Jonathan SmithCheckmark
Last updated: July 16, 2024
Presented by AD Safety Network
Key Takeaways

Using the wrong kind of ladder, or using the right one improperly, can lead to serious injury.

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

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Well, not exactly.

Like any tool, the right ladder will increase productivity and help you get the job done. But using the wrong ladder (or using the right ladder the wrong way) can lead to serious and potentially fatal injuries.

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In this article, we’ll give you a primer on rules for ladder safety. That way, you’ll be able to climb them with confidence and stay out of harm’s way.

Basic Ladder Safety Rules

The steps to using a ladder safely will depend on the type of ladder you’re using. The procedures for using a short step ladder aren’t quite the same as those that apply to a heavy-duty extension ladder.

Still, there are some basic safety rules that apply to most situations and should be followed regardless of the ladder you’re using.

1. Inspect the Ladder Before Use

Before setting up the ladder, make sure it is in good condition.

Look for any signs of damage or wear that could compromise the ladder’s integrity.

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Test each rung to make sure they’re secure and don’t twist or turn.

Make sure the rungs are free of oil, grease, or other slippery substances.

2. Set Up the Ladder on Firm, Even Ground

The ladder needs to stay upright during use, which means it has to be standing on a stable, flat surface.

Don’t set it up on soft dirt, snow, or slanted ground.

Never place the ladder on boxes, pallets, or other unstable objects. If the ladder doesn’t extend far enough, you will need a longer ladder, not something to prop it up.

3. Don’t Set Up the Ladder in Front of Closed Doors or Busy Walkways

If you must use the ladder in front of a closed door, make sure it is locked or guarded to prevent someone from opening it and bumping into the ladder.

If the ladder is placed somewhere that has a lot of foot traffic, make sure to cordon off the area to discourage people from walking near it. This will reduce the likelihood that someone will bump into the ladder and shift it out of place.

4. Place the Ladder at a 75 Degree Angle

The safe angle for a ladder is 75 degrees.

The easiest way to achieve this is by following the 4-to-1 rule: the base of the ladder should be one foot from the wall for every four feet of ladder height.

For example, if you are using a ladder to climb 12 feet, it should be set 3 feet away from the wall.

5. Follow the Three Points of Contact Rule

When climbing or descending the ladder, maintain three points of contact with the ladder at all times.

That means either:

  • Two feet and one hand on the rungs, or
  • One foot and two hands on the rungs

Do not let go of a rung unless both feet are on the ladder. And do not take your foot off a rung unless both hands are holding onto the ladder.

6. Don’t Carry Tools or Materials in Your Hands

The ladder might be rated to hold the weight of everything you want to carry, but it’s impossible to climb safely with something in your hands. After all, you can’t maintain three points of contact unless both your hands are free.

Use a toolbelt to carry things up. Anything that doesn’t fit should be brought up with a tow rope or hoist bucket. (This promotes dropped object safety.)

7. Only Allow One Person on the Ladder at a Time

Even if two or more people can technically fit on the ladder at the same time, this is always considered unsafe. The only exception is a two-sided stepladder, which is specifically designed to accommodate two people at once – but not on the same side.

Having multiple people on the same ladder increases the odds of losing your balance, overloading the ladder, or tipping it.

The outcomes of an incident can be worse, too. Falling from a ladder is always dangerous, but falling while there are other people on the ladder risks injuring them as well.

8. Don’t Overreach

Keep your body positioned between the side rails of the ladder.

Never stretch out to reach something. If you can’t reach as far as you need to, climb down and reposition the ladder instead.

9. Never Reposition the Ladder While Standing on It

If you need to move or shift the ladder, don’t attempt to do it while you’re on it. And don’t have someone else do it while you’re holding onto the rungs. It’s far too easy for the ladder to shift into an unsafe position or for you to lose your balance.

Always climb off the ladder completely before repositioning it.

10. Don’t Use the Ladder During Storms

Heavy rain makes the rungs too slippery to use safely.

Storm winds can also knock the ladder over even when the weight of a person is on it.

If the weather creates a hazardous situation, call it and reschedule the work for a day when it’s safe to climb the ladder.

Extension Ladder Safety Rules

An extension ladder consists of two or more sections that can be adjusted to give the ladder different lengths.

When using one, follow all the basic safety rules listed above, along with the extension ladder safety rules below.

1. Verify the Ladder’s Duty Rating

An extension ladder’s duty rating indicates how much weight it can hold. The heavier the load you’ll be placing on the ladder (including the weight of your body, the PPE you’re wearing, and contents of your toolbelt), the higher the rating needs to be.

Before using the ladder, check the duty rating and make sure it can handle the total weight that will be placed on it:

  • Type IAA – Special Duty: 375 lbs
  • Type IA – Extra Duty: 300 lbs
  • Type I – Heavy Duty: 250 lbs
  • Type II – Medium Duty: 225 lbs
  • Type III – Light Duty: 200 lbs

2. Look Out for Overhead Wires

Make sure the ladder isn’t set up near any power lines. Even if you don’t come into direct contact with them, you could still sustain an injury from an electric arc.

If working around power lines is unavoidable, be sure to:

  • Keep the ladder at least 10 feet away from any power line
  • Use a ladder made of non-conductive materials, like fiberglass
  • De-energize the power lines before setting up the ladder (if possible)

3. Make Sure the Ladder Is Locked in Place

The ladder should lock in place once extended. This ensures that it doesn’t slip out of place or collapse on itself while in use.

Double check that each segment of the ladder is properly locked and secure before climbing.

4. Extend the Ladder 3 Feet Above the Top Level

Always make sure the ladder reaches 3 feet (or about 3 rungs) above the level you’re climbing. This ensures that you can comfortably and safely get back on the ladder when you’re ready to climb down.

For example, if you’re climbing to 12 feet, then your ladder needs to be extended 15 feet.

5. Tie Off the Ladder

If possible, tie the top or bottom of the ladder to a firm surface.

This will help it remain stable and reduce the risk of the ladder shifting out of place or falling.

Stepladder Safety Rules

Stepladders don’t always have the reach of an extension ladder, but they make up for it in convenience. They’re easy to carry and store, and come in a variety of heights – from four feet to twenty.

Here are some specific safety rules you must follow when using stepladders.

1. Single-Sided Ladders Are Only for One-Person Use

Double-sided stepladders can safely accommodate two people at once – specifically, one person on each side.

However, not every stepladder is double-sided. Many only have a full set of rungs on one side. If you’re using a single-sided ladder, no more than one person should be on it at any given time.

2. Use a Stepladder That Gives You the Right Amount of Reach

The stepladder should allow you to work comfortably, without having to stretch or reach. Use a stepladder that is approximately 3 feet shorter than the highest point you will need to reach.

3. Don’t Stand at the Top of the Ladder

Most stepladders have a flat surface at the top. You can lay your tools on it or hold onto it for additional stability, but you should never step on it. Even if there is enough room for your feet, it’s not designed to hold the weight of a person.

Platform ladders are the exception. They’re similar to stepladders but have a large, stable work surface that is designed to stand on.

4. Make Sure the Spreader Bar Is Locked

When you unfold a stepladder, the spreader bar should lock into place. This provides additional stability and ensures that the ladder can’t fold onto itself while you’re using it.

Don’t take the spreader bar for granted. Always check to make sure it’s locked before stepping onto the ladder.

OSHA Rules for Ladder Safety

Following the safety rules outlined in this article will help you remain compliant with OSHA regulations.

But to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered, let’s look at some of the specific requirements outlined in OSHA’s 1910.23 standard covering ladder safety for General Industry.

  • Regulation ladders must have rungs that are uniformly spaced 10 to 14 inches apart
  • Wooden ladders must not be painted over (this can hide defects that compromise their integrity)
  • Ladders must be inspected before use, at least once per shift (any ladder showing signs of a defect must be tagged and removed from use)
  • The total load on the ladder should not exceed its weight limit, and mobile ladder stands must be able to support four times their intended load
  • If the ladder is set up in a location where it can be bumped into by vehicles or pedestrians, it must either be secured or guarded by caution tape or another type of barricade
  • If a portable ladder is set up on a slippery surface, it must be stabilized before use
  • When used for climbing to another level, the side rails of a portable ladder must extend at least 3 feet from the upper landing surface

Employers’ Responsibilities for Ladder Safety

The employer is responsible for setting up a safe work environment by providing the right equipment to do the job. The first task for the employer is to assess each job to determine where there will be work that cannot be done safely from ground level. If there is work to be done at height, the next thing is to determine the length of time the employee will be required to remain at that height to perform the work.

If the employee is simply using the ladder as a means to go up and down between work locations (e.g. roofers), then the time spent on the ladder per trip is minimal even though the work at either end will take more time.

If the work requires an employee to remain at height for more than 30 minutes, then the employer should be looking at a safer alternative like a scaffold, lift, or other piece of equipment.

If the work takes less than 30 minutes, then a ladder may be the right piece of equipment as long as it can be placed in an area that will remain level and stable. Ideally, the ladder should also be secured.

Finally, it is the responsibility of the employer to make sure that their workers are properly trained in safe ladder use.

Conclusion

Ladders are so common that most of us are certain we know how to use them safely. But using one the wrong way can put you at risk of a very serious injury.

Even if you’re an experienced ladder user, it’s worth reviewing ladder safety rules regularly to make sure you’re using the right one, using it right, and not skipping any steps. It only takes a few minutes and it could save your life.

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Presented By

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Written by Marion Grant | Senior Copywriter at Northern Safety Co., Inc.

Marion Grant
Since joining Northern Safety & Industrial in 1999, Marion Grant has been writing about the importance of safety in the workplace. By keeping the conversation going about proper practices, she hopes to reduce accidents and injuries, as well as increase worker morale and productivity.

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