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Ladder Safety

Use Care When Climbing Ladders


Updated January 23, 2014

Use 1:4 Ratio for Ladder Placement

Place base of ladder 1 foot away from support for every 4 feet of height.

© Rod Brouhard

With the right ladder and proper use, working above ground level should be no problem. Make sure you have an appropriate ladder and use correct technique for placement and climbing.

Choose the Right Ladder

There are three basic portable ladder types:
  • Type I – Industrial: heavy-duty with a load capacity not more than 250 pounds.


  • Type II – Commercial: medium-duty with a load capacity not more than 225 pounds. (Suited for painting and similar tasks.)


  • Type III – Household: light-duty with a load capacity of 200 pounds.
There are many types of ladders available on the market. If it is intended to be portable and used by a single person, it should fit into one of the three basic categories.

The most common type of ladder in the home is a stepladder. Mariette Mifflin, About's Guide to Housewares, offers tips for choosing the right stepladder.

Only choose ladders with the UL seal from Underwriter's Laboratory. Ladders commonly come in three materials: aluminum, wood, or fiberglass. Aluminum is the most durable, but will conduct electricity, making it dangerous for use around electricity. Wood may rot. Fiberglass is the best combination of durability and non-conductivity, but is also the most expensive.

Using a Ladder

  • Make sure the ladder is suited for the type of job you plan to do (see the types above).


  • Before using a ladder, especially a ladder that has been stored in the garage for a while, inspect it for cracks or broken joints.


  • Place your ladder on a stable, even, flat surface. Never place a ladder on top of another object.


  • Use the 1:4 ratio to ensure a stable working platform. Place the base of the ladder 1 foot away of whatever it leans against for every 4 feet of height to the point where the ladder contacts at the top (see graphic).


  • When using an A-frame stepladder, make sure the brace is locked in place.


  • If climbing onto another surface, make sure the ladder extends at least three feet past the platform you're climbing onto.


  • Secure tall ladders by lashing or fastening the ladder to prevent movement.


  • Always face the ladder when climbing or descending.


  • Keep both feet on the ladder - never put one foot on a rung and the other foot on a different surface.


  • Do not climb higher than the second rung on stepladders or the third rung on straight or extension ladders.


  • Never stand on the top or the paint shelf of a stepladder.


  • Keep your belt buckle (if you have one) positioned between the rungs so it doesn't catch.


  • Never leave ladders unattended - kids love them.


  • When working with electricity, use a ladder made of wood or fiberglass.


Maintaining Ladders

Inspect ladders regularly. Stepladders and extension ladders should be inspected for broken or frozen joints or latches. Aluminum ladders should be inspected for cracks and broken welds. Aluminum ladders should also be inspected for rough spots and burrs before first use.

Wood ladders should be inspected for cracked wood, splinters, and rot. Look for broken or loose hardware. Protect wood ladders with linseed oil or clear sealant. Never paint a wooden ladder - the paint may hide imperfections such as rot or cracks.

Fiberglass ladders are protected with a clear sealant. If the fiberglass is damaged through the sealant, sand lightly before applying another coat of lacquer.


Cyr, Dawna L., and Steven B. Johnson. "Ladders, Lifting and Falls." National Ag Safety Database. September 2006. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 13 Nov 2006 [url]http://www.cdc.gov/nasd/docs/d000801-d000900/d000826/d000826.html[/url].
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