What is considered a safe angle for a ladder?

Q:

What is considered a safe angle for a ladder?

A:

The safest angle? That depends on two things: the jurisdiction and the type of ladder in question. For the purpose of answering your question, we will discuss portable extension ladders. Why? Well, because if you get the ladder angle wrong, bad things can happen.

(Read more in Ladders: Extend Your Reach Without Shortening Your Life.)

Risk factors include:

  • Too steep an angle? The ladder can fall right back over you, or slide sideways during use. Belushi could walk away from his fall off a portable ladder in Animal House. In reality, he would have been seriously if not fatally injured.
  • Too shallow an angle? The bottom kicks out and down you go.
  • Unsecured? Try getting on or off an unsecured ladder - not safe in any circumstance.

And, while we work from ladders every day, extension ladders are not work platforms. In essence, they are for getting up and onto a work area. However, the reality is that people climb/work with ladders every day. The second-last fatality investigation I was involved with was a fall from an extension ladder, approximately 8 feet to the ground. That ladder was unsecured, both top and bottom, and appeared to have been set up almost straight against the side of the building.

So, while there are great publications about the entire subject – we are just going to talk about safe angles.

From the standpoint of legislation, standards, and codes:

NIOSH puts a safe working angle at 75.5 degrees for an extension ladder on a work site. They also have an app that will allow you to find the correct angle for the ladder you are using.

OSHA says, “When a ladder is leaned against a wall, the bottom of the ladder should be one-quarter of the ladder’s working length away from the wall.”

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety lists all the jurisdictional information available across Canada. For example, in Alberta, 15 separate sections of the OHS Act are included in respect to ladder safety.

(Learn the Keys to Safe Ladder Use.)

Another Standards organization, the American Ladder Institute, has links to all of the OSHA information regarding ladders. They also offer free web-based training.

And last, National Safety Inc. speaks to extension ladder angles using the 4 to 1 ladder rule, which means that for every 4 feet you go up, the ladder must be 1 foot out from the base of the wall (so, a ladder that is 20 feet high needs to be 5 feet out from the base of the wall).

Ladder use is common, and ladder safety is an extensive subject. Answering the question about safe angles for an extension ladder barley touches the depths of safe ladder work. While angles are a critical factor, they are simply one of many critical factors for ensuring safety while using ladders. Always remember the critical nature of securing the top of a ladder and anchoring the base.

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Written by Henry Skjerven
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Mr. Skjerven has consulted professionally for over 27 years, with extensive Canadian experience, literally from coast to coast but with a home base in Western Canada. His experience ranges from marketing, adult education, and heavy transportation (rail) to municipal public works, fleet and transportation, oil and gas construction in the tar sands, emergency response (Fire and Ambulance), Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Security, as well as human resources and software systems, including enterprise style projects.

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