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Ladders can make many tasks easier, but they are also a continual safety hazard. Even the best ladder is not safe unless you are trained and proficient in using ladders. Each year, many people suffer serious injuries from accidents involving ladders. Before you use a ladder, take a moment to think about doing it safely. 

A secure, well-made ladder is necessary for safe ladder use. Ladders come in different styles, including step, straight, and extension. They also vary in construction and may consist of wood, aluminum, or fiberglass. Choose the correct type and size ladder for the job. All ladders sold within the U.S. are rated as follows:

  • Type I: Heavy-duty industrial ladder rated to hold up to 250 pounds.
  • Type IA: Extra-heavy-duty industrial ladder rated to hold up to 300 pounds.
  • Type II: Medium-duty commercial ladder rated to hold up to 225 pounds.
  • Type IIA: Special-duty ladder rated to hold up to 375 pounds.
  • Type III: Light-duty household ladder rated to hold up to 200 pounds.

Follow these guidelines for safe ladder usage:

  • Always inspect a ladder before you climb it. Make sure the steps are sturdy and the locking mechanisms are in good working order.
  • Carry ladders horizontally with the front end slightly higher than the back end.
  • To open a stepladder, make sure the spreader is locked and the pail shelf is in position. To open an extension ladder, brace the bottom end and push the rungs or rails out.
  • Place ladders on a solid, level surface to ensure safety:
    • Watch for overhead obstructions and powerlines.
    • To prevent ladders from sinking into soft ground, use a large board under the feet of the ladder.
    • Position a straight or extension ladder so that the base of the ladder is one foot away from the vertical support for every four feet of working ladder height (e.g., if you are working with eight feet of ladder, place the base of the ladder two feet from the wall).
    • Do not place the top of a ladder against a window or an uneven surface.
    • When possible, tie the top of a straight or extension ladder to supports. Stake and tie the feet of the ladder.
    • An extension ladder used for access to a roof must extend at least 3 feet beyond the support point.
    • Use a wooden or plastic ladder if you must work near electrical sources.
    • Do not place a ladder in front of a door unless you lock and barricade the door and post a warning sign on the opposite side of the door.
  •  Use common sense when climbing or working on ladders:
    • Wear shoes with slip-resistant soles and make sure they are dry before climbing.
    • Never allow more than one person on a ladder.
    • To climb or descend a ladder, face the ladder and firmly grip the rails, not the rungs, with both hands.
    • Keep your body between the rails at all times. Do not shift your weight to one side.
    • Have someone steady the ladder if it cannot be secured otherwise.
    • Do not stand on the top four rungs of an extension ladder or the top two rungs of a step ladder.
    • When working on a ladder, keep two feet and one hand on the ladder at all times.
    • Do not stand on the bucket shelf of a ladder.
  • When working on a ladder, carry small tools on a tool belt. Use a rope to raise and lower heavy tools.
  • Never leave a raised or open ladder unattended.
  • Store ladders away from heat and moisture. Destroy damaged or unsafe ladders.


May 2011
Reviewed November 2014