Ladder Safety Guide: Safety Tips to Keep in Mind This Fall

by TOI Admin November 14, 2011

With fall now in full swing and the holiday season just around the corner, many people are beginning to break out ladders hanging around their homes. Ladders are an easy and convenient tool used to clean gutters on the roof, hang holiday lights and decorations and aid in reaching those out-of-the-way objects in closets and attics. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 532,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, clinics and other medical settings in 2007 because of injuries related to ladders use. The majority of these injuries are cuts, bruises and fractured bones.


Orthopaedic surgeons who treat these injuries, and the American Ladder Institute know that numerous injuries could be avoided by following the safety guidelines on the use of ladders. For more information on ladder safety, read the following tips below from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:


Use the Correct Ladder:


Use a ladder of proper length to reach the working height you need. Inside a house, that probably needs a low stepladder; outside, you may need a taller stepladder, and for some projects, an even taller single or extension ladder. Use a ladder according to use and working load – the combined weight of the climber and the load being carried.







extra heavy 300 lbs. maximum



heavy 250 lbs. maximum



medium 225 lbs. maximum



light 200 lbs. maximum


Inspect the Ladder:


Always inspect the ladder before you use it. Never use the ladder if it is damaged, broken or bent.

Do not make a temporary repair of broken or missing parts and then use the ladder. The temporary repair could fail while you are high off the ground. A ladder should be free from grease, oil, mud, snow and other slippery materials before using.

Moving the Ladder:


You should carry a single or extension ladder parallel to the ground. Hold the side rail in the middle of the ladder so you can balance the load. You should get help moving a very long ladder. Remember to always carry a stepladder in the closed position.


Setting up the Ladder:

Before you use a single ladder, extension ladder, or stepladder outside the house, make sure it will not hit electrical wires, tree limbs or any other obstructions when it is extended.

To ensure that the ladder is stable, place the feet of the ladder on firm, even ground.

The bottom of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet that the ladder rises. For example, if the ladder touches the wall 16 feet above the ground, the feet of the ladder should be 4 feet from the wall. If you are going to climb onto a roof, the ladder should extend 3 feet higher than the roof. The upper and lower sections of an extension ladder should overlap to provide stability.


Recommended Height of a Ladder:

Ladder Height

Maximum Work Height

16 ft. ladder

13 ft. maximum work height

24 ft. ladder

21 ft. maximum work height

28 ft. ladder

24 ft. maximum work height

32 ft. ladder

29 ft. maximum work height

36 ft. ladder

32 ft. maximum work height

Before using a stepladder, make sure it is fully open and the spreaders or braces between the two sections are fully extended and locked.

Whether inside or outside the house, do not place stepladders or utility ladders on boxes, countertops or unstable surfaces to gain additional height.

The highest standing level on a stepladder should be two steps down from the top.

Using the Ladder:

Before climbing a ladder, make sure the locks are secured and the bottom and top of the ladder rails are on firm surfaces. The soles of your shoes should be clean so they do not slip off the ladder rungs. Do not wear leather-soled shoes, because they can be slippery. Your shoelaces should be securely tied. Make sure your shoelaces and pant legs are not so long that they extend under your shoes and cause you to slip.

  • Face the ladder while climbing and stay in the center of the rails. Grip both rails securely while climbing.
  • Do not lean over the side of the ladder. Your belt buckle should not be further than the side rail.
  • On single or extension ladders, never stand above the third rung from the top and never climb above the point where the ladder touches the wall or vertical support.
  • On stepladders, never stand on the paint shelf, spreaders or back section.
  • Never stand on the top rung of any ladder.
  • Do not overreach. It is safer to move the ladder to a new location when needed. Do not try to "jog" or "walk" the ladder to a new location while standing on it. Climb down and reposition the ladder.
  • Do not overload a ladder. It is meant to be used by only one person at a time.
  • Never use a ladder in high winds.
  • Do not use any ladder if you tire easily, are subject to fainting spells or are using medications or alcohol that make you dizzy or drowsy.

What to Do If You Fall From a Ladder:

  • Calmly assess the situation and determine if you are hurt.
  • Get up slowly.
  • If you feel that an injury has occurred which prevents standing or walking, do not panic. Call for assistance. If the injury is serious, call 911.
  • If you are not injured, rest for awhile and regain your composure before climbing again.
  • Ladders are useful tools, but they must be used properly to avoid turning a household chore into a trip to the emergency room or a physician's office.

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:


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