Step Up!

Ladders have been around for a long time of course, and are common to most workplaces. These facts, plus their apparent simplicity, can lead to the mistaken impression that their safe operation requires no special knowledge or skills. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Falls from portable ladders are a major source of injury in the workplace and are usually more costly for everyone in terms of time loss, compensation costs and human suffering. Incidents involving ladders frequently occur because the limits on their use and design were exceeded somehow. With proper use and training though, the risks of working overhead can be minimized greatly.

General Rules

Your decisions for the use of ladders are important ones, as they can affect your job effectiveness and your safety. Choosing the right ladder is a key factor, in addition to how they are secured and how you work once you’re up there.

  • Always use a ladder type (step, straight, extension or multi-purpose) that is appropriate for the project, the height required, the surrounding conditions and the weight of the operator. Never attempt to attach ladders together or ‘jury rig’ them to fit a particular job need.
  • Inspect your ladder before and after use to check for damage and be sure that it holds an industrial rating such as a CSA approval. Immediately repair or dispose of any equipment that is damaged or is missing pieces.
  • Make sure that any personnel that uses portable ladders, even occasionally, receives the proper training
  • Ladders should be used for light-duty work only and be limited to short periods of time
  • For heights above six meters, ladders should only be used for access purposes. You should only consider using a portable ladder if other alternatives, such as the use of scaffolding or elevated work platforms, are not possible.
  • Never attempt to try anything that goes beyond the normal use and capacity of ladder equipment. The risks are far too great.
  • Working at heights can be a real issue with certain individuals, as they can panic or become disoriented. It is never a good practice to ‘force’ a worker to work on ladders or high platforms if there could be the potential for this type of reaction.

Placement & Securing

How and where you place your portable ladder are critical for safe operation. Here are some general tips to consider:

  • Always position ladders on firm, dry and level ground. Utilize levelers, planks or stabilizers where necessary.
  • Good manual handling practices should always apply in the workplace. Two people may be required to carry, raise and lower ladders depending on size, location and weather conditions.
  • When used near traffic areas, ensure that measures are taken to separate the public or other workers from the work activity with barriers or pedestrian walk ways. Place ladders away from doors that could hit the ladder when opened, or lock or barricade the doors to avoid accidental opening.
  • Place ladders away from areas where there are hazards such as sharp objects, machinery or chemicals
  • All ladders should include slip-resistant feet and rungs
  • Always check for overhead power lines when erecting ladders and ensure that they are the non-conducting type (wood or fiberglass) if there are power sources nearby
  • The base of a leaning ladder should extend out one meter for every 4 meters of height (4:1 ratio) to provide the safest angle
  • Straight and extension ladders should extend 1 meter beyond the top support structure with both side rails resting securely for optimal stability
  • Ensure that the structure the ladder is leaning against is stable and will not break or move when a person is on the ladder
  • Straight and extension ladders should be secured at both the top and bottom to prevent movement
  • Do not use ladders on top of scaffolding or work platforms to gain extra height
  • Don’t use portable ladders in extreme wet or windy conditions unless control measures can account for these factors
  • Ideally, have someone hold the ladder at its base, especially if it doesn't have slip-resistant feet or secure blocking.


For climbing, descending and working up in the air, there are some definite do’s and don’ts to abide by.

  • Always wear fully enclosed footwear with slip-resistant soles when using portable ladders
  • Don’t climb or place your feet higher than the third rung from the top. This allows you to grasp the ladder at waist height while working.
  • Always face the ladder when climbing or working on it. Maintain 3 points of contact at all times.
  • Grasp the rungs of the ladder and not the side rails. The rungs are easier to hold onto in case your feet slip.
  • Do not carry objects in your hands while climbing. Hoist materials up or attach tools to your belt where required.
  • Utilize only light-duty hand tools on a ladder that can be used in their normal operating position. Don’t attach tools to a ladder unless it is designed for that purpose.
  • Keep the centre of your body within the side rails and work within easy arm’s reach. If you find that you need to lean out dangerously, it’s a better plan to climb down and move the ladder over.
  • Don't straddle the space between a ladder and another object
  • Do not work directly over other people. Barricade the area below to create a safe zone if required.
  • Tie yourself off with a safety harness when working 3 meters or more off the ground or when working with both hands
  • If you're doing work that requires you to look up and reach above your head, be sure to rest frequently to avoid fatigue and disorientation.

Remember that the little time and effort it takes to inspect your ladder, set it up properly and exercise operational caution, will make your job easier, and could quite possibly save your life.

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