4.19 Ladder Safety

Safety, Health, and Environmental Manual

These guidelines provide information necessary to comply with best practices on ladder safety.

Managers and supervisors should review these guidelines with employees who use ladders. They should ensure that ladders are routinely inspected according to this guideline.

4.19.1 Ladder Inspection and Care

Use the following guidelines for inspecting and caring for ladders:

  • Inspect ladders before each use to identify any defects that make the ladder unsafe.

  • Determine the weight capacity of the ladder. Do not exceed weight limitations.

  • Take defective ladders out of service immediately. Wooden ladders with broken, split, cracked, or loose steps, rungs, or rails should not be used. Warped, uneven, or rotted parts should be replaced. Metal ladders with missing or loose rivets should not be used.

  • Keep ladders clean of acids, alkali solutions, oil, grease, and excessive dirt.

  • All portable ladders should have nonslip bases.

  • Extension ladders should be equipped with nonslip swivel safety shoes and should not be separated or used as separate ladders.

  • Do not paint wooden ladders. Apply clear varnish, shellac, or linseed oil if preservatives are needed.

  • Do not use metal ladders near power lines or electrical equipment. Before metal ladders are used in other locations, they should be stenciled or labeled with the following warning or similar wording:


  • Use a locking device on all wheeled ladders to keep them from moving when they are being used. If the locking device is defective or one is not installed, do not use the ladder.

4.19.2 Ladder Use

Follow these guidelines for using ladders:

  • To set up a straight ladder safely, use the 4-to-1 rule. For every 4 feet (1.2 m) in height, the base of the ladder should be 1 foot (0.3 m) away from the wall. For example, place a 12-foot (3.7 m) ladder so the bottom is 3 feet (1 m) away from the object the ladder is leaning against.

  • Do not use ladders in horizontal positions as runways or scaffolds.

  • Place portable ladders so they are secure and level. When placing ladders on soft ground, provide a solid platform or base to prevent sinking.

  • Do not lean ladders against loose boxes, barrels, round objects, or other unstable supports.

  • Lash ladders to the object when working on cylindrical objects like poles or columns to prevent the ladder from slipping sideways.

  • Do not use stepladders as extension ladders.

  • Extend ladders at least three feet above the upper landing, roof, or platform.

  • Do not place ladders in front of a door that opens toward the ladder unless the door is secured.

  • Divert traffic around a ladder, not under it.

  • Hold on with both hands when going up or down a ladder, and always face the ladder when ascending or descending.

  • Do not carry objects in your hands. Carry small tools in a tool belt. Use a hand line to raise and lower heavy tools.

  • Be sure shoes are not greasy, muddy, or slippery when climbing up or down ladders.

  • Do not climb higher than the third rung from the top of an extension ladder or the second tread from the top of a stepladder.