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Ladder Types

Ladder safety sounds relatively simple, right? Yet every year, thousands of people suffer minor and major injuries due to the improper usage or placement of ladders. And this isn't just an on-the-job problem for professional painters or roofers. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are roughly 187,000 ladder-related injuries a year. So whether you're hanging Christmas lights at home or painting a house, following these ladder safety tips will help ensure an accident-free experience. Safety tips start with knowing the two main types of ladders:

  • Step Ladders range from three to twenty feet in height and have weight capacities as high as 300 pounds. The highest standing level on a stepladder is about two feet from the top. When figuring out what size ladder you'll need, add your height and reach to the highest standing level of the stepladder to figure out maximum work height.
  • Extension Ladders are not self-supporting and require two level ground supports in addition to a top support. These ladders are built with two or three adjustable sections and maximum work height depends on the number of sections as well as the duty rating.
Man Falling Off Step Ladder
Man Falling Off Step Ladder
Load Capacity

Safety rule #1: don't exceed your ladder's load capacity. Ladders typically carry a label listing the maximum weight they're designed to safely support. It's important to check this duty rating before stepping foot on a rung. These ratings aren't just suggestions - they're rules to live by. And since whatever ladder you choose will literally be supporting your body weight, it's a good idea to make sure you choose one that can withstand the pressure. It's also important to take into consideration any tools, equipment, or other supplies that will be on the ladder with you as these add to the weight. These ratings are:

  • Type IA: industrial duty (industrial applications); 300 pounds
  • Type I: commercial duty (industrial applications); 250 pounds
  • Type II: professional duty (commercial painter, handyman, etc.); 225 pounds
  • Type III: household duty (general use); 200 pounds
Ladder Material

Material might not seem like a safety-related issue, but then you've probably never been standing on a metal ladder that's suddenly contacted by a live electrical wire. There are three common materials to choose from when considering ladders, and all three come with different safety concerns:

  • Wooden ladders are specifically recommended for electricity-related tasks, since unlike their metal counterparts, they are nonconductive. It's important to remember, however, that wooden ladders are often assembled with metal parts, so they're not always OK for electrical work. You should always treat a wooden ladder with sealant, but don't paint it - it can cover up defects and problems that might prove dangerous.
  • Metal ladders are strong, durable, and resistant to corrosion; however, they also have the ability to conduct electricity, which means they should never be used around power lines or electrical wiring. If you do opt for a metal ladder, make sure to look for plastic or rubber feet to provide extra grip and stability.
  • Fiberglass ladders are nonconductive, making them ideal for doing any electrical work or for use in areas near power lines. They're also a more expensive option, but then again, you can't really put a price on safety and peace of mind.
Step Ladder Safety Diagram
Step Ladder Safety Diagram
Ladder Size, Placement, and Stability

Size definitely matters when it comes to ladder safety, so it's okay to be picky. After all, you don't want one that's too tall or too short - you need one that's just right. Using a ladder that's too short can cause you to extend too far and increase your risk of falling. The U.S. CPSC recommends using a ladder that extends at least three feet over the roofline or working surface. This provides greater stability and weight distribution and helps avoid violating another fundamental ladder safety rule: don't stand on the top step and/or bucket shelf.

Position makes perfect in terms of ladder placement. Ladders should always be positioned on a flat and stable surface. If you're placing your ladder on uneven or soft ground, make sure to use leg levelers to stabilize it. Set up straight, single, and extension ladders at a 75-degree angle; one foot away from its support for every four feet of height. To ensure you have the correct angle, stand up straight with your toes touching the feet of the ladder as it leans away from you. Extend your arms in front of you. Your palms should touch the top of the rung that's at shoulder level.

To guarantee a stable base, make sure your ladder is equipped with slip-resistant feet. If you're climbing a tall ladder - or any ladder on a windy day - securing it with rope or a ladder stabilizer is a good idea. Check all rung locks and spreader braces on your ladder to make sure they are set, and keep your body centered between the rails of the ladder at all times. Leaning too far to one side while working can throw you and your ladder off balance and cause you to fall.

Extension Ladder Safety
Extension Ladder Safety
Safe Ladder Usage

As with most tools, a ladder is only as safe as the behavior of its user. Take care, work wisely, and stay centered. Some other general ladder safety tips to keep in mind are:

  • Have a helper hold the bottom of the ladder.
  • Keep ladders away from a door that can be opened.
  • Only allow one person on a ladder at a time.
  • Always face a ladder when climbing and descending it. Never climb beyond the highest step recommended, and don't reach more than one foot to the side.
  • • When you're done with the ladder, put it away immediately. Never leave a raised ladder unattended.
Ladder Safety Tips
Ladder Safety Tips