Use Ladder Safely – Or Stay Off

Jr. Bankston  |  6/10/2005 12:49:16 AM

News Release Distributed 10/14/02

The best advice for those cleaning up after storms or completing other maintenance tasks is to use a ladder safely or not at all, says LSU AgCenter safety specialist David Bankston.

"The first consideration should always be ‘Can the job be done safely with a ladder,’" Bankston says, adding, "If the answer is no, then find another way to do the job – or have a professional do it.

"At any rate, stay off the ladder unless you’re sure it’s going to be safe."

The LSU AgCenter engineer says ladder safety is a serious matter, since 175,000 serious injuries and about 300 deaths occur each year in the United States from falls resulting from improper use of ladders.

Bankston says some of the cases where it may not be safe to use a ladder include trimming tree limbs where there is no stable place to support the ladder or where the branches are likely to fall on the ladder.

In such a case, he suggests such alternatives as determining whether the trimming could be done safely with a pruning saw on a pole or with a rented scissors lift.

"If you can’t find a safe way to do the job, then it might be time to pay the money for a professional," Bankston says. "That still could be a lot cheaper and less painful than a serious fall."

The LSU AgCenter specialist says it’s important to keep in mind that some jobs just can’t be done safely with a ladder and that others can’t be done safely by one person with a ladder.

Whether you’re using a stepladder or an extension ladder, Bankston says there are several basic things to consider that may help you do it safely. Among those are:

–Read and follow the instructions for the ladder and for the tools you are using.

–Be sure the ladder is strong enough to support you and the material and tools you are using. This means that not only should the load capacity be sufficient to support the combined weight of user and materials, it should also be in good shape.

–Is the ladder tall enough? You can safely reach a height 2 feet to 4 feet higher than the height of a stepladder. A 10-foot stepladder, for example, should allow you to reach a height up to 12 feet to 14 feet. An extension ladder, however, must be taller than the height you want to reach. An extension ladder up to 32 feet should be at least 7 feet taller than the height, a 36-foot ladder should be 8 feet taller and a 40-foot ladder should be 9 feet taller.

–Is there enough room for the ladder? A stepladder should have enough room to open fully, while an extension ladder should have enough room to be placed at the correct angle.

–Don’t use a ladder, particularly an aluminum ladder, around electrical wires that might be live. If the power is turned off, be sure it cannot be turned on while you are working.

–Inspect the ladder for defects such as missing, damaged or loose components; snags; oil, mud or other slippery materials. Make sure that moving parts work properly and that all connections are secure.

–Be sure the ladder has been properly set up with all ladder feet on firm level ground. Don’t place a ladder on slippery or unstable surfaces.

–Wear slip-resistant shoes or boots, and make sure the soles are clean.

–Keep the area around the ladder clear, and control the traffic. For example, if the ladder is located where a door might open onto it, lock the door or otherwise ensure that the door is not opened into the ladder.

–Don’t over-reach while working on a ladder. Keep your body centered on the ladder. Hold the ladder with one hand while working with the other. Never let your belt buckle (or the place where it would be) pass beyond either ladder rail.

–Be careful not to over-balance when carrying or moving materials. Severely limit the weight of materials you carry on the ladder – have materials handed to you, or haul them up with a rope.

–Don’t try to move or shift the ladder while you are on it.

–Climb facing the ladder, one step at a time, with your body centered and using your hands.

–Don’t use a ladder in strong winds.

–Don’t stand or sit above the highest safe standing level. This means that you don’t use the top three rungs of an extension ladder or stand or sit on the top or top step of a stepladder. To do so is to risk losing your balance and falling.

–Get help with a ladder that is too heavy to handle by yourself. If possible, have another person hold the ladder while you are working on it.

–Don’t climb a ladder if you are not physically or mentally up to it. For example, dizziness, shortness of breath or taking certain medications could all be reasons not to climb a ladder.

Specific safety tips for stepladders also include opening the ladder fully and locking both spreaders, positioning the ladder so you can face your work and not climbing the back of any stepladder that was not specifically designed to hold two people.

As for extension ladders, among the other precautions you can take are overlapping upper and lower sections by at least three steps, placing the ladder so both rails are supported fully and evenly, setting ladder up at about a 75 degree angle with the ground, extending ladder at least 3 feet above an upper surface on which you intend to climb, ensuring locks are firmly in place and securing extension rope and tying the ladder at top and bottom when possible.


Contact: David Bankston at (225) 578-2907 or
Writer: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture