National Ladder Safety Month

Date: March 1, 2022

Doug Sams, Risk Control Consultant

Recommendations to Get A "Step Up" on Portable Ladder Safety

Falls are the leading cause of death and injuries in the construction industry. According to The Center for Construction Research and Training, each year, more than 4,000 construction workers suffer lost-time injuries from ladder falls, and more than 70 construction workers die in falls from ladders. This month step up your training on ladder safety to protect yourself and your employees.

Ladder Selection

When selecting a ladder, consider:

  • What is the task at hand?
  • How will the ladder be used to complete your task?
  • How much weight will be imposed on the ladder?
  • What environment will the ladder be used in?

The first rule of ladder selection is, if it's not a ladder, do not use it as a ladder. Buckets, sawhorses, concrete blocks and wire spools are just a few examples of items commonly misused to gain a little more reach (see photo below). Only use ladders specifically designed and constructed to be used as ladders.

misusing a crate as a ladder

Ladder Type

OSHA classifies ladders into two basic types. Non-self-supporting ladders (i.e. straight and extension ladders) are used to access elevated working surfaces. Self-supporting ladders (i.e. step ladders) allow workers to access the work being performed such as work on walls and ceilings.

Step ladders should not be used while closed and leaning against a wall. Extension ladders should not be used, unless the top of the ladder and whatever it is leaning on, can be secured without tipping. Only use ladders for their designed and intended purpose.

step ladder and extension ladder used incorrectly

(L) = This step ladder is being misused to access the top of the wall; (R) The extension ladder is putting a side load on the column form, which could cause it to tip over while the employee is on the ladder dumping vibrating concrete.

Fiber Glass vs. Aluminum vs. Wooden

Workers should not use aluminum or other conductive ladders near live electrical lines or where they could make accidental contact with exposed live electrical parts. It is important to consider the environment as well. A wooden ladder is not typically a conductor. A damp or wet wooden ladder will act as a conductor. Fiberglass ladders are typically non-conductive and the most robust for construction and industrial use.

Aluminum Ladder 

This aluminum ladder is erected next to the electrical service drop into the building. The “knuckles” or hardware connecting the overhead line to the service wiring may create exposure to live parts.

Duty Rating (Capacity)

Each manufactured ladder has a load capacity rating based on the type and construction of the ladder. Ladder ratings appear on decals typically found on the ladder side rails. Only Types I, IA and IAA are approved for use in industrial settings and construction work. The rated maximum weight includes the weight of the worker and the equipment they are carrying.

Ladder Inspection

Workers should inspect ladders before each use. Look for damage to side rails, rungs, feet, spreaders, fasteners and other hardware. It is also good practice for employers to put ladders on a scheduled, periodic inspection program.

Damaged ladders should be taken out of service until repaired, however most employers do not stock OEM parts for portable ladders or have a qualified person on staff. Any ladder repair must be done by a qualified person and must return the ladder to its original form, fit and function.

damaged ladders

(L) = The feet on this ladder were damaged when they struck an awning while the ladder was secured to the ladder rack of a truck; (R) = The side rail on this ladder is damaged which affects the structural integrity and capacity of the ladder. Both ladders should be taken out of service until they are repaired by a qualified person or replaced.

Ladder Repair Collage-min

These ladder repairs do not return the ladders to their original form, fit and function. Both ladders should be taken out of service until they are repaired by a qualified person or replaced.


Most ladder accidents can be avoided by ensuring the ladder cannot tip over while in use. All ladders should be erected on a solid, level and stable base. OSHA requires non-self-supporting ladders to be secured at the top. It is a good practice to do the same with self-supporting ladders. The photos below illustrate poor ladder placement.

ladders incorrectly placed creating a tip hazard

Additional tips for ladder placement include:

  • Avoid exposing yourself to additional or greater hazards.
  • Avoid high traffic areas - both foot traffic and vehicle/equipment traffic.
  • If you cannot avoid setting up in a high-traffic area, use visual barricades or someone to direct traffic around the base of your ladder.
  • Avoid positioning ladders near an edge or floor opening that could significantly increase the fall exposure. If this cannot be avoided, use personal fall arrest, hole covers or other means of fall protection.
  • Maintain good housekeeping below your ladder to avoid slip/trip/fall hazards around the base and to minimize injury in the event of a fall.
  • For non-self-supporting ladders:
    • The angle of the ladder should be on a 4:1 slope, meaning for every four (4) feet in height, the base of the ladder should be one (1) foot away from the structure it is leaning on.
    • The top of the ladder should extend three (3) feet above the intended landing to give employees a handhold when mounting and dismounting the ladder.
    • Secure the top of the ladder with either rope or tie-wire, to prevent accidental displacement.
    • If the base of the ladder is subject to slipping, the base should be secured to prevent the bottom from sliding out.

ladder housekeeping

(L)= The guardrail provides fall protection from the open-sided floor. Because of the location of the ladder, anyone working from the ladder would need additional fall protection. A couple of options include adding rails to the guardrail system or personal fall arrest (harness, lanyard and anchor point). (R)= In general, housekeeping is very poor on this site. Trash piles and lumber discarded with protruding nails create exposures to slip/trip/fall while mounting and dismounting ladder, and possibly greater injury to the employee in the event of a fall from the ladder.

correct way to secure a ladder

Ladder Safety

Another frequent cause of falls from ladders is misusing the ladder or the employee overreaching. To prevent these falls:

  • Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder: two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand. Since it is impossible to maintain three points of contact while carrying tools or materials up or down the ladder, you should not carry tools and materials while climbing. Use a rope to haul or hoist materials to the upper level.
  • Always face the ladder when climbing and working from the ladder.
  • Do not use the top step/rung of a ladder unless it was designed for that purpose, or stand on the top three rungs of a straight, single, or extension ladder.
  • Practice the “Buckle Rule”. The “Buckle Rule” means employees shall not reach out from a ladder beyond a point where their belt buckles would be outside of the side rails or above the top step of the ladder.
  • Never “walk” a step ladder. Meaning do not move the ladder while you are on it.
  • Never use a ladder when working from a man lift.

Additional Resources


Construction Industry:

General Industry:

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.


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