Todd P Krell, MD
Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Westfield Orthopedic Group
541 East Broad Street
Westfield, NJ 07090
Phone: (908)232-3879  | Fax: (908)232-5789
Copyright 2012 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Ladder Safety Guide

Ladders are useful tools. Nearly everyone uses them to reach out-of-the-way objects on pantry shelves or closets, to wash windows, and to clean gutters or hang holiday lights. Ladders also are potentially dangerous, causing more than 164,000 emergency room-treated injuries in 2010, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most injuries are cuts, bruises and fractured bones, however some are more severe.

Fortunately, many of these injuries can be avoided by following ladder safety guidelines.

© 2012, Thinkstock
Choose the Correct Ladder
  • Use a ladder of proper length to reach the working height that you need. Inside a home, that probably means a low stepladder. For outside chores, you may need a taller stepladder, and for some projects, an even taller single or extension ladder.
  • Use a ladder according to use and "working load" — the amount of weight on the ladder, including yourself and any tools or decorations.
IAIndustrial300 lbs. or more
IIndustrial250 lbs. or more
IICommercial225 lbs maximum
IIIHousehold200 lbs. maximum
Inspect the Ladder
  • Never use a ladder that is damaged, broken or bent.
  • Check the ladder for any loose screws, hinges or rungs.
  • Clean off any mud, grease, oil, snow or other slippery liquids that might have accumulated on the ladder.
  • Do not make a temporary repair of broken or missing parts because these repairs could fail while you are high off the ground.
Proper Set Up of the Ladder
  • Never place a ladder on the ground or flooring that is uneven. The ground may be very bumpy because of freezing and thawing during the winter months. There also could be soft, muddy spots on the lawn.
  • If working outside, make sure the ladder is away from electrical wires, tree limbs, or any other obstructions.
  • Use the 4-to-1 rule: Make sure the ladder is 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet that the ladder rises. For example, if the ladder touches the wall 16 feet above the ground, the feet/base of the ladder should be 4 feet from the wall. If you are going to climb onto a roof, the ladder should extend 3 feet higher than the roof. The upper and lower sections of an extension ladder should overlap to provide stability.
  • Whether inside or outside the home, do not place stepladders or utility ladders on boxes, countertops or unstable surfaces to gain additional height.
  • Before using a stepladder, make sure it is fully open and that the spreaders or braces between the two sections are fully extended and locked.
  • The highest standing level on a stepladder should be two steps down from the top.
  • Ladder height versus work height:
Ladder HeightMaximum Work Height
16 feet13 feet
24 feet21 feet
28 feet24 feet
32 feet29 feet
36 feet32 feet
Tips For Safe Ladder Use
  • Make sure the soles of your shoes are clean so they do not slip off the ladder rungs. Do not wear leather-soled shoes because they can be slippery.
  • Make sure your shoelaces are securely tied, and that your pant legs do not extend under your shoes.
  • Face the ladder while climbing, and stay in the center of the rails. Grip both rails securely while climbing.
  • It is always better to move the ladder than to overreach.
  • Leaning too far to one side, and reaching too far overhead, can make you lose your balance and fall. Your bellybutton should not go beyond the sides of the ladder.
  • Never climb a ladder without someone nearby who is able to spot you.
  • On a single or extension ladder, never stand above the third rung from the top and never climb above the point where the ladder touches the wall or vertical support.
  • On stepladders, never stand on the pail shelf, spreaders or back section.
  • Never stand on the top rung of any ladder.
  • Do not overload the ladder. It is meant to be used by one person at a time.
  • Do not use a ladder if you tire easily, are subject to fainting spells, or are taking medications or alcohol that may make you dizzy or drowsy.
  • Do not use the ladder, or the pail shelf, as a seat.
  • Never use a ladder in high winds.

If you fall from a ladder:

  • Calmly assess the situation and determine if you are hurt.
  • Get up slowly.
  • If you feel that an injury has occurred that prevents standing or walking, do not panic. Call for assistance. If the injury is serious, call 911.
  • If you are not injured, rest awhile and regain your composure before climbing again.

Ladders are useful tools that regularly help with a variety of chores and projects. Ensuring that your ladder is safe, and that you are properly climbing and moving on the ladder, can help prevent injuries.

Last reviewed: October 2012
AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS "Find an Orthopaedist" program on this website.
Copyright 2012 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Related Links
Guidelines for Preventing Falls (
Home Safety Checklist (
Lawn Mower Safety (
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
9400 West Higgins Road
Rosemont, IL 60018
Phone: 847.823.7186

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