Choosing and Using Ladders

Although ladders are very common tool that is used for a wide variety of tasks, ladder safety should never be taken for granted. The National Safety Council estimates that more than 30,000 people are involved in ladder-related injuries each year.

In addition to OSHA regulations governing ladder safety, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has also developed duty rating standards for ladders. These ratings identify the use for which a portable ladder is intended and the conditions under which the ladder can be safety used.

When determining the duty rating needed, consider both the weight of the person and the weight of any tools or equipment being carried by that person while on the ladder. The following table describes various ladder ratings:
• Type IAA - Extra heavy-duty industrial. Capable of supporting 375 lbs.
• Type IA - Extra heavy-duty industrial. Capable of supporting 300 lbs.
• Type I - Heavy-duty industrial. Capable of supporting 250 lbs.
• Type II - Medium-duty commercial. Capable of supporting 225 lbs.
• Type III - Light-duty household. Capable of supporting 200 lbs.

Selecting the right ladder for the job:
• Check the duty rating to make sure the ladder will support the load.
• Don't use metal ladders near power lines or where they may come in contact with any source of electricity.
• Make sure the ladder is long enough for the job.
• Never use a step ladder for heights over 20 feet.

Inspecting the ladder before you use it:
• Look for damaged rungs, steps, rails, braces or any missing parts. Discontinue or repair the ladder before use.
• Check ropes and pulleys on extension ladders for lubrication and good repair.
• Never paint a ladder. Paint can camouflage stress cracks or other forms of damage.
• Make sure the ladder is free of wet paint, mud, snow or other debris that could cause a slipping hazard.
• Destroy any ladder that is damaged, bowed, warped, worn beyond repair, or has been exposed to fire or chemicals.

Use care when setting up a ladder:
• If using a step ladder, make sure it is fully open and the spreaders are locked.
• If using a straight ladder, make sure that the ladder is 1' from the wall for every 4' of vertical height.
• Set all feet on a firm, level surface. Never put the ladder on a box, table or anything else to increase height.
• Never use a step ladder in the unfolded position.
• If using an extension ladder, ensure that all locks have been engaged before ascending the ladder.
• If the ladder must go over a doorway or passageway, post signs or rope off the area to ensure safety.

Climb and descend ladders cautiously:
• Climb only the front side of the ladder.
• Face the ladder while ascending and descending.
• Use both hands when ascending and descending.
• Never stand on the top two rungs or on the platform of a ladder.
• Keep your body centered over the rails.
• Do not carry tools in your hands. Use a tool belt to carry tools.

Use common sense while working on a ladder:
• Do not use a ladder if you are under the influence of drugs or alcoholic beverages.
• Keep your shoes clean to avoid slipping on ladder rungs.
• Do not use ladders during storms or in high winds.
• Do not over-reach. Get off the ladder and move it as needed.
• Never "walk" a ladder while standing on it.
• Never place a ladder against a window pane or sash.

Properly care for and store ladders:
• Ladders should be inspected regularly, and a record of the inspections kept for future reference. A ladder inspection checklist follows.
• Ladders should be kept from extreme heat and moisture.
• Clear varnishes can be used to help preserve wooden ladders. Never paint a wooden ladder.

Ladder Inspection Checklist




Needs Repair

Date Repaired

Are steps or rungs loose? (Consider them loose if they can be moved at all by hand)




Are any of the nails, screws, bolts or other metal parts loose?




Are the braces, uprights or rungs split or cracked?




Are there any slivers or burrs on any part of the ladder?




Are the bases worn or damaged?




Step Ladders


Needs Repair

Date Repaired

Does the ladder wobble from side to side?




Are the spreaders loose or bent?




Are the spreader hinges broken?




Are any of the other hinges loose?




Are the steps broken, split or worn?




Extension Ladders


Needs Repair

Date Repaired

Are any of the extension locks loose, broken or missing?




Do the locks seat properly when extended?




Is the rope worn, rotted or missing?




Karen D. Hamel is a technical specialist for New Pig Corp. She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and has over 17 years of experience helping EHS professionals find solutions to environmental, health and safety issues. She is HAZWOPER technician level and NIMS certified, and serves in the Blair County, PA LEPC. She can be reached at 1-800-HOT-HOGS® (468-4647) or by email

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