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Ladder Safety

Portable ladders of various types and sizes are used by faculty and staff on every College campus. An appropriate ladder or step stool always should be used to reach high places; never use chairs, boxes, or other improvised climbing devices. Regulations covering the design, proper care, and use of both portable and fixed ladders used in the workplace are set forth in OSHA's 29 CFR Part 1910.25-27 for general industry and 29 CFR 1926.1053 for construction. They were developed to prevent accidents and injuries caused by faulty equipment and improper use of ladders of all types.

Scope and Application

This guide deals with the maintenance and safe use of portable ladders (including extension ladders) and step ladders at the College. It is applicable to any department whose personnel use ladders. It does not address the design specifications for constructing portable ladders nor any of the OSHA requirements for fixed ladders.
The requirements for the safe use of ladders of all types are twofold: use of equipment that is in good repair and following safe work practices. Consequently, all ladders "shall be inspected by a competent person for visible defects on a periodic basis and after any occurrence that could affect their safe use." (29 CFR 1926.1053) Employees who use any type of ladder in performance of their duties must be trained in ladder safety.

Inspections and Maintenance

Only commercial ladders that meet OSHA design specifications or ANSI standards may be used at the College. All ladders shall be inspected at least twice yearly and prior to each use. In addition, if a ladder tips over, inspect it immediately for side rails dents or bends, or excessively dented rungs; check all rung-to-side-rail connections; check hardware connections; check rivets for shear.

Ladders should be maintained in good condition at all times. Defective ladders shall be removed from service immediately and marked with a tag reading "DANGEROUS - DO NOT USE!" The supervisor or department head shall determine whether a defective ladder will be repaired or replaced. Any repairs must comply with OSHA specifications.

Inspections should cover the following points:

  1. Wooden parts shall be free of sharp edges, splinters, cracks, or decay. Metal ladders shall be free of slivers or dents that would compromise structural integrity.
  2. Joints between the steps/rungs and sides must be tight. Rungs should not move when twisted by hand.
  3. Hardware and fittings shall be securely attached.
  4. Movable parts must operate freely (lubricate, if necessary), but without undue play.
  5. Rope, if present, must be replaced if frayed or badly worn.
  6. Safety feet shall be in place and unbroken. Metal ladders must have insulating, non-slip foot pads.
  7. Rungs/steps shall be free of grease, oil, or other slippery substances. Remove any buildup of dirt or mud, as well. Rungs on metal ladders must be corrugated, knurled, dimpled, or coated with a slip-resistant material.
  8. No rungs/steps shall be missing or defective.
  9. Ladders may not be painted or coated with any material that might hide defects. Labels should be placed on only one face of side rails.
  10. Step ladders must have a metal spreader or locking device of sufficient size and strength to securely hold the ladder in an open position. Any sharp points on the spreader must be covered or removed.

Work Practices

Ladder Selection

Choose a ladder that is capable of supporting the load you intend on placing it under by checking the product information label. (Be sure to include the user's body weight.)
   Weight capacities are as follows:

  • Type IA - Extra heavy duty; 300 lbs. capacity
  • Type I - Heavy Duty; 250 lbs. capacity
  • Type II - Medium duty; 225 lbs. capacity

Choose a ladder of the correct length to do the job. A ladder that is too long or too short will force you to overreach, adversely affecting your balance.
  Maximum ladder lengths allowed:

  • Step ladders - 20 feet
  • Single-section portable ladders - 30 feet
  • Two-section ladders: wooden - 60 feet; metal - 48 feet
  • Metal ladders having more than two sections - 60 feet
  • Painters' ladders - 12 feet

Do not use a metal ladder for any electrical work or other tasks in the vicinity of energized electrical lines.

Ladder Placement
  • Always check for potential electrocution hazards before positioning any kind of ladder.
  • When setting up a ladder, maintain a proper angle by placing the base a distance from the vertical wall equal to one-fourth the working length of the ladder.
  • Set the ladder base section on a secure footing that is firm, level, and free of debris and other materials. Do not use a ladder that wobbles or leans to the left or right of center. Do not place ladders on top of boxes or other unstable bases to gain additional height. Ladders placed on uneven footing must be secured against displacement.
  • Ladders shall not be used on slippery surfaces unless secured or provided with slip-resistant feet to prevent accidental displacement. Slip-resistant feet are not a substitute for care in placing, lashing, or holding a ladder that is used on a slippery surface.
  • Ladders that must be placed in doorways, halls, or other locations where they can be displaced by workplace activities or traffic shall be secured to prevent accidental displacement. Lock the door, have someone stand guard, or erect a barricade around the work area to keep the activities and traffic away from the ladder.
  • The top of a non-self-supporting ladder shall be placed with the two rails supported equally, unless it is equipped with a single support attachment.
  • When using a ladder to access a high landing, extend the top of the ladder at least three feet above the edge of the landing. If this is not possible, then the top of the ladder must be secured to a rigid support that will not deflect and a grab-rail or other device provided to help the user get on and off the ladder.
  • Do not try to move, shift or extend a ladder while it is in use.
  • Do not use a ladder as a horizontal platform, runway or scaffold, or for any purpose other than that for which the ladder is designed.
Ladder Climbing
  • Always face the ladder when climbing up or down.
  • Do not get on or off a ladder from the side or back.
  • Allow only one person at time on a ladder.
  • Maintain a three-point contact by keeping both hands and one foot or both feet and one hand on the ladder at all times when climbing up or down. Do not carry any object or load that could cause you to fall or lose your balance.
  • When performing work on a ladder, keep your body aligned with the center of the steps/rungs to avoid extreme reaching or side loading. Do not lean backwards.

Step Ladders

  1. Keep all four legs of the ladder in contact with the footing support.
  2. Never close a step ladder and lean it against something to use it in that position.
  3. Check that the spreaders are locked in the fully opened position.
  4. Do not use the rear braces as steps unless they have been specifically designed to be used as steps by the manufacturer.
  5. Do not stand or climb on the top two steps.

A Ladder Safety Checklist is available below under the Resources section for use whenever ladders are required to perform a job. It includes an inspection checklist and safety reminders for setting up and using different types of portable ladders.


Public Health & Environmental Safety periodically provides general training sessions for Facilities Department personnel who use portable ladders. Other College employees who use ladders may, through their supervisor/department head, request to be included in the next scheduled training class. Training covers the proper use, care, inspection of, and hazards associated with portable ladders. Online Training is also available.

What you need to know:

  • Provide the appropriate type(s) of portable ladder(s).
  • Ensure that ladders are regularly inspected.
  • Ensure that ladder users are trained to recognize hazards related to ladders and procedures to be followed to minimize those hazards.
  • Attend training.
  • Adhere to ladder safety procedures and requirements.
  • Provide training for ladder users.
  • Assist departments in ladder selection.
  • Assist departments in developing a ladder inspection program.
  • Provide periodic audits of the ladder safety program.


If you have any questions or concerns regarding the safe use of ladders at the College, contact the Public Health & Environmental Safety Office at (240) 567-4266.