Choose Your Ladder Right

Stepladders come in several sizes; the three most popular sizes used by homeowners are 4, 6, and 8 feet. Regardless of the ladder size, the following safety rules apply:

  • First, when opening a stepladder, check to confirm that the two hinged metal braces, called spreaders, are locked down and straight.
  • Never set up a stepladder on uneven ground. Each of the ladder’s four feet must make firm contact with the ground or floor.
  • Tempting as it may be, never sit or stand on the very top step of the ladder. In fact, ladder manufacturers—and emergency room doctors—recommend never standing above the third highest step.
  • Only climb up the front of the ladder, never the back side. Don’t allow more than one person at a time on a stepladder. (The exception is when using a specially engineered two-person stepladder, which has steps on both sides.)
  • When working from a stepladder, keep your hips within the two vertical rails. Reaching too far to the left or right could cause the ladder to topple.
  • Remove all tools and materials from the ladder before moving it. You really want that hammer falling on your face?
  • Lots of people will lean a closed stepladder up against a wall and then climb it. But don’t. It can easily slide out from under you.
  • It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Never stand on the paint shelf.
  • Finally, don’t leave stepladders unattended, especially around children. When you’re done working for the day, or if you take an extended break, close the ladder and put it away, or at least lay it down.

Extension Ladder Precautions

An extension ladder provides the easiest, most convenient way to reach high areas around your home, but with greater heights come greater chances for more serious injury. So be careful.

  • To extend the ladder, first lay it on the ground with its feet braced against the house. Then raise the top end of the ladder and walk it upright hand over hand. Once the ladder is nearly vertical, grab a rung at about thigh-high, lift the ladder slightly, and walk its base back away from the house.
  • Once the ladder is in position, grab the rope and raise the telescopic section of the ladder, known as the fly, to the desired height. Be sure that both rung hooks lock securely onto a rung of the ladder, then tie off the end of the rope to a lower rung.
  • To set the proper ladder angle, use a 1:4 ratio: Divide the ladder height by 4, then move the ladder base that far from the house. For example, if the ladder is 16 feet tall, its base should be 4 feet away from the house.
  • Both ladder feet should sit firmly on the ground. If one foot doesn’t make contact, don’t stack blocks of wood beneath it. Instead, dig some dirt out from beneath the other foot.
  • Never stand an extension ladder on wet, muddy, icy, or snow-covered surfaces.
  • Don’t stand higher than the fourth rung from the top.
  • Never set up a ladder anywhere near electrical power lines.
  • Always face the ladder when ascending and descending. And use both hands to grab the rungs—not the rails.
  • If necessary, wear a tool belt or holster to carry tools and supplies. That way, you’ll have both hands free when climbing up and down.
  • As with a stepladder, keep your hips within the vertical side rails. Don’t overreach to the left or right.