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Getting a Rung Up on Ladder Safety

Ladder safety is an issue in many different kinds of work settings, including retail, warehousing and construction. OSHA's standard for portable ladders can help you select, use and maintain ladders for maximum safety. A few of the standard's provisions:
  • Both foldout (self-supporting) and leaning ladders must be able to support four times the maximum intended load. The exception to this is extra-heavy-duty metal or plastic ladders, which must be able to support 3.3 times the maximum intended load.
  • Ladders that lean against a wall or other support should be positioned at an angle that places the base of the ladder a quarter of the distance of its total height away from that support. So, for example, the base of a twelve foot leaning ladder should be positioned so its base is three feet away from the wall.
  • For non-commercial wooden ladders (that is, that have been made for the job) the angle should equal about 1/8 of the distance to minimize strain on ladder joints.
  • Position portable ladders so the side rails extend at least 3 feet above the landing.
  • Secure side rails at the top to a rigid support and use a grab device when 3 foot extension is not possible.
  • Foldout or stepladders must have a metal spreader or locking device to hold the front and back sections in an open position when in use.
  • Ladder rungs, cleats or steps must be parallel, level and uniformly spaced, between 10 and 14 inches apart. For extension trestle ladders, the spacing must be 8-18 inches apart on the base and 6-12 inches on the extension section. Rungs must be skid-resistant and shaped so that an employee's foot can't slip off.
  • Ladders must be kept free of oil, grease, wet paint and other slipping hazards, and must not be coated.
Additional tips from the National Safety Council:
  • Don't put a ladder in front of a door unless the door can be locked, blocked or guarded.
  • Make sure both side rails of the ladder have secure, level footing.
  • If you're using a ladder up high, secure it top to bottom so it won't slip.
  • Keep ladders away from electrical wiring or any operational piping, such as acid, chemical, or sprinkler systems. For more information see the OSHA ladder standard, 1910.1053 (a standards page is linked from
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