How to Choose and Use the Right Ladder for Safe Work

  • 01 of 06


    extension ladder
    Mint Images/ Tim Pannell / Getty Images

    If you are like most people, using some kind of ladder around the house is a weekly, if not daily event, ranging from tasks as basic as retrieving can goods from a top cabinet shelf to checking roof gutters for leaks. And because so many household accidents involve ladders (it's estimated that more than 2 million occur each year, when those not reported or not requiring a doctor's visit are included), you'll be wise to read on to learn about all the various types of ladders used...MORE around the home, and how to use them correctly. 

    Consider just how many different ladder types there are: stepstools, stepladders, extension ladders, telescopic ladders, convertible multi-function get the point. Safe ladder usage depends on using the right type of ladder for the job.  

    Today’s ladders are available in lightweight and strong materials, not like the wood ladders of yesterday. Modern ladders typically come in aluminum and fiberglass and usually have rungs that are serrated for slip resistance. In addition to the advantage of being light, fiberglass ladders have non-conductive side rails for added safety when working around electricity.

    Given the frequent need for this tool, it is worth taking a little time to review how to safely choose the right ladder for the job at hand. This tutorial will outline and expand on some of the recommended considerations involved in selecting the right ladder as suggested by Marc Marini, director of product management at Werner Co, an industry leader in the manufacturing and distribution of ladders and climbing equipment.

    Let’s look at five key considerations in proper ladder selection:

    • Selecting the right ladder type.
    • Selecting the right ladder height and reach.
    • Selecting the right ladder weight capacity.
    • Selecting the right amount of maneuverability.
    • Ladder safety.
    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Selecting the Right Ladder Type

    man on ladder
    Judith Wagner Fotografie / Getty Images

    Ladders have come a long way in terms of convenience and safety. The first step in selecting the correct ladder is to choose the right ladder style. Ladders come in five main types although there are some variations within these styles. These five types include:

    • Single-section ladder
    • Stepladder
    • Extension ladder
    • Telescopic ladder
    • Multi-function ladder

    Single Section Ladder:
    Yes, this is your grandfather’s ladder. Used for thousands of years, the single-section ladder is useful for simple, level-ground...MORE applications where the top of the ladder is leaned directly against an object. The advantage of this ladder is that it is the lightest ladder available for a given length. The disadvantage is that because it is a single section, it is also the longest ladder for that length.

    The stepladder is a single-section, fixed-length ladder with built-in stabilizing legs allowing applications for freestanding use. The legs fold compactly for storage. Stepladders are available in aluminum, fiberglass, and wood.

    Extension Ladder:
    An extension ladder is a design that allows a series of single-section ladders to be deployed in a cascading manner, allowing higher ladder reach in a ladder that requires less storage space. Typically, an extension ladder has two single sections, but the compact extension ladder, such as that made by Werner, Co. comes with a three-section design providing easier storage and requiring less storage length. Standard extension ladders are available in aluminum, fiberglass, and wood. Compact extension ladders are available in fiberglass and aluminum.

    Telescopic Ladder:
    The telescopic ladder is the newest innovation in ladders and is similar to an extension ladder, except that the rungs actually collapse for an even smaller storage footprint. Telescopic ladders are available in aluminum.

    Multi-Function Ladder:
    The multi-function ladder uses lockable hinge joints and extension ladder design to function in a number of ways ,including a step ladder with even or uneven side lengths, a single- section ladder, or as a support for scaffolding functioning like a sawhorse

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  • 03 of 06

    Selecting the Right Ladder Height and Reach

    ladder chart
    The safe length of a ladder is based on its use and height to the top support point. Courtesy of StackExchange

    Selecting the right length ladder is not as simple as determining required vertical height. The ladder length must include a number of factors including:

    • Angle of the ladder.
    • Highest standing point on the ladder (which is 4 rungs down from the top).
    • Required overlap of ladder sections.
    • Extension above roofline.

    The chart above will show you the recommended ladder height for your gutter height or top support point of the ladder. If you use the ladder to access and go onto a roof, say for an...MORE inspection, then the ladder must be long enough to extend three feet beyond the roofline. If the ladder is going to be leaned against a roofline or to against gutters when you are cleaning the gutters

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  • 04 of 06

    Selecting the Right Ladder Weight Capacity

    Weights of materials commonly carried up a ladder. Werner Co.

    As you would expect, ladders are designed and constructed to safely hold a specific amount of weight borne by a person and any load they are carrying (approximate potential material weights are shown in the diagram above).

    Ladders come in different duty ratings, identified by their grade and type. The Duty Rating is the maximum safe load carrying capacity of the ladder, which includes both a person’s fully clothed weight plus the weight of any tools and materials that are carried onto the ladder.

    D...MOREuty ratings include the following categories:

    • Type III (200 lbs. load limit)
      Economical design for lightweight use .
    • Type II (225 lbs. load limit)
      Basic design for simple projects .
    • Type I (250 lbs. load limit)
      Designed to handle most projects and jobs .
    • Type IA (300 lbs. load limit)
      Rugged performance designed with professional use in mind .
    • Type IAA (375 lbs. load limit)
      Maximum performance and durability for the toughest professional or home use jobs.
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  • 05 of 06

    Selecting the Right Amount of Maneuverability

    step ladder
    Tatiana Dyuvbanova / EyeEm / Getty Images

    The larger the ladder, the bigger, bulkier and heavier they usually become. When selecting your ladder, consider how easy it will be to store or transport. The compact extension ladder goes a long way to improving maneuverability and ease of storage. Instead of two overlapping sections making up a standard 16-foot extension ladder, a compact extension ladder uses three shorter overlapping sections, making it easier to store and transport.

    Continue to 6 of 6 below.
  • 06 of 06

    Ladder Safety

    ladder top step
    Photography by Keith Getter (all rights reserved) / Getty Images

    Consider the following information from the CDC (Center for Disease Control):

    "Falls remain a leading cause of unintentional injury [deaths] nationwide, and 43 percent of fatal falls in the last decade have involved a ladder. Approximately 34,000 ladder-related nonfatal injuries were treated in hospital emergency departments during 2011."

    According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year finds about 165,000 ladder-related injuries occurring. Many are preventable with some...MORE common sense and following basic ladder safety.

    For some easy to follow ladder safety tips and great "Do's" and "Don'ts," please read the article Tips for Safe Ladder Usage.