Safely Use Ladders When Removing Debris

Ladder Safety

The first consideration of ladder safety is, “Can the job be done safely with a ladder?” If the answer is "no," find another way to do the job or have a professional do it.

For example, if you need to trim tree limbs where there is no stable place to support the ladder or where the branches are likely to fall on the ladder, try to find another method. Could the trimming be done more safely with a pruning saw on a pole or with a rented scissors lift? If not, it might be time to hire a professional. Professional help could be cheaper and a lot less painful than a fall.

Serious falls are common; every year about 300 deaths and 175,000 serious injuries from falls occur in the United States.

General guidelines for portable ladders

Not all jobs can be done safely with a ladder or by one person with a ladder. If the job can be done safely with a ladder, there are several basic considerations in doing it safely, whether the ladder is a stepladder or an extension ladder.

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, the ladder should be in good shape. The ladder should have a label showing its load capacity. The four common classifications are

  • Type III, light duty, 200 lbs.

  • Type II, medium duty, 225 lbs.

  • Type I, heavy duty, 250 lbs.

  • Type IA, extra heavy duty, 300 lbs.

Be sure the ladder is tall enough. When you're on a stepladder, you can reach 2 to 4 feet higher than the height of a stepladder. A 10-foot stepladder, for example, should allow you to reach a height of 12 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 working height, a 36-foot ladder should be 8 feet taller and a 40-foot ladder should be 9 feet taller.

Make sure there's enough room for the ladder. A stepladder should have enough room to open fully; an extension ladder should have enough room to be placed at the correct angle.


  • Open the ladder fully and lock both spreaders firmly.
  • Position the ladder so you can face your work.
  • Do not climb the back of a stepladder unless it was specifically made for two people.

Extension Ladder:

  • Position the rounded end up, with the ladder feet (with non-skid surface for hard ground) down on firm level ground with the upper section on top of the lower section. The upper and lower sections should overlap by at least three steps.
  • Place the top of the ladder so that both rails are fully supported. The rails should support the load evenly. The support area should be at least 12 inches wide on each side of the ladder. If the support area is not strong enough to support the ladder -- for example, a gutter -- find another way to support the ladder. Ladder accessories such as a ladder stand-off may be needed.
  • The ladder should form about a 75 degree angle with the ground. This means the horizontal distance from a point directly below the upper support point to the ladder’s feet should be ¼ the vertical height to the support. If the ladder is too close to the building (too steep an angle), it may tip backward; if it is too far away, it may slip out at the bottom and be put under greater stress than it was intended to handle.
  • If you will be climbing onto an upper surface such as a roof, the ladder should extend at least 3 feet above the surface.
  • Extension ladders need both locks holding to prevent overloading a rail. Secure the extension rope to the lower section as a backup for the lock assemblies.
  • Tie down the ladder at both the top and bottom if possible. At each location, tie to both of the ladder rails and tie the other end of the rope so that the rope angles away from the center of the ladder.

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2/13/2007 2:02:16 AM
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