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Ladders 101

Choosing the Right Ladder

Ladders are built from one of three basic materials; wood, fiberglass and metal (aluminum).  

The environment of your work site is the first factor in choosing the material from which your ladder is constructed. For example, if you are working near sources of electricity, a metal ladder should be rejected since aluminum is an electrical conductor. Your body can complete an electrical circuit between the electrical power source, the ladder, and then to the ground in the event of a live wire contact incident. An electrical shock while working from a ladder can trigger a fall or cause your heart to stop leading to serious injury or death. On the other hand, if there are no electrical power sources in your work area, the aluminum ladder is the lightest weight when compared to fiberglass or wood.  

There are also several kinds of ladders manufactured for a variety of uses. Again, evaluation of your work environment and knowledge of what ladders are available will allow you to choose the right ladder for the job. Each of the following considerations addresses safety issues in your work environment: 

  • Will the ladder be resting on an uneven surface?
  • Is the work area crowded with people and/or materials?
  • What obstructions are in the path of the climb?

Next, the proper ladder length must be selected.It is unsafe to use a ladder that is too long or too short. When using a Step Ladder,for example, standing on the top cap or the step below the top cap is not permitted due to the increased likelihood of losing your balance. Likewise, when using an Extension Ladder, the top three rungs are not to be used for climbing. A Straight Ladder is too long, for example, if ceiling height prohibits the ladder from being set-up at the proper angle. Likewise, an Extension Ladder is too long if the ladder extends more than three (3) feet beyond the upper support point. In this case, the portion of the ladder that extends above the upper support point can act like a lever and cause the base of the ladder to move or slide out. Safety standards require a label on the ladder to indicate the highest standing level.

Next, consider the Duty Rating of the ladder. This is an indication of the maximum weight capacity the ladder can safely carry. To figure out the total amount of weight your ladder will be supporting, add:

  • Your Weight; plus
  • The Weight of Your Clothing and Protective Equipment; plus
  • The Weight of Tools and Supplies You Are Carrying; plus
  • The Weight of Tools and Supplies Stored on the Ladder

There are five categories of ladder Duty Ratings:

Type IAA (Extra Heavy Duty)  375 pounds
Type IA (Extra Heavy Duty) 300 pounds
Type I (Heavy Duty) 250 pounds
Type II (Medium Duty) 225 pounds
Type III (Light Duty) 200 pounds

 

The Duty Rating of your ladder can be found on the specifications label. Safety standards require a Duty Rating sticker to be placed on the side of every ladder. Do not assume that a longer ladder has a higher weight capacity.   There is no relationship between ladder length and weight capacity.

 

Ladder Varieties

Your work environment, including the physical size restrictions, is probably the most important factor in determining the variation of ladder to use for a given job. The versatility of the ladder, however, is a major consideration, especially for domestic use.

Otherwise, the number of ladders that one would need to have available for the wide variety of tasks around the home that require elevation from the ground would be prohibitive. In an effort to assist in familiarizing yourself with the standard ladder variations that are available, consider the following:

  • Articulated Ladder

    An Articulated Ladder is a portable ladder with one or more pairs of locking hinges which allow the ladder to be set up in several configurations such as a single or extension ladder, with or without a stand-off, a stepladder, a trestle ladder, scaffold or work table. Each pair of articulated joints in the ladder can be locked in one or more positions to accommodate the various configurations. The locking positions of the hinges allow set-up at the proper angles to accommodate each configuration that the manufacturer has designated.

    An instruction label appears on each Articulated Ladder illustrating the locking hinges in both the locked and unlocked positions. Each Articulated Ladder manufacturer has a unique locking hinge design and each lock must visibly indicate whether it is locked or unlocked. As a result, it is important that the user become familiar with the proper operation of the hinge and make sure all the hinges are locked before using the ladder. Never attempt unlocking or repositioning any of the hinges while standing on the ladder.

    The hinges of an Articulated Ladder require periodic lubrication. The hinges should be lubricated upon receipt of the ladder and then annually or more frequently, depending upon use. When involved in messy work, place a covering over the exposed hinge mechanisms to avoid getting contaminants into them that may cause malfunctions.

    Another on-product label illustrates all the acceptable configurations for a given Articulated Ladder. Configurations not illustrated on the label are not to be used.

    The size of an Articulated Ladder is determined when it is set up in the stepladder configuration by measuring along the front side rail from the bottom to the center of the hinge at the top of the ladder. When set up in the stepladder configuration, Articulated Ladders range in size from 3 to 15 feet maximum. When set up as a Single or Extension Ladder, Articulated Ladders may have a length of no more than 30 feet.

    All four feet of an Articulated Ladder are covered with a slip-resistant material which must be present and in good condition before the ladder is used.

    The ladder must not be used on ice, snow or slippery surfaces unless suitable means to prevent slipping is employed.

    The ladder must never be placed upon other objects such as boxes, barrels, scaffolds, or other unstable bases in an effort to obtain additional height.

    Articulated Ladders must not be tied or fastened together with any other type of ladder to provide a longer length.

    Proper Care

    A thorough inspection must be made when the ladder is initially purchased and each time it is placed into service. Clean the climbing and gripping surfaces if they have been subjected to oil, grease or slippery materials. Working parts, bolts, rivets, step-to-side rail connections, and the condition of the anti-slip feet (safety shoes) shall be checked.

    Ladders exposed to excessive heat, as in the case of fire, may have reduced strength. Similarly, ladders exposed to corrosive substances such as acids or alkali materials may experience chemical corrosion and a resulting reduction in strength. Remove these ladders from service.

    Broken or bent ladders, and ladders with missing or worn out parts must be taken out of service and marked, for example, "Dangerous – Do Not Use” until repaired by a competent mechanic or destroyed. No attempt shall be made to repair a ladder with a defective side rail. Ladders with bent or broken side rails must be destroyed.

    In the event a ladder is discarded, it must be destroyed in such a manner as to render it useless. Another person must not be given the opportunity to use a ladder that has been deemed unsafe.

    When transporting ladders on vehicles equipped with ladder racks, the ladders must be properly supported. Overhang of the ladders beyond the support points of the rack should be minimized. The support points should be constructed of material such as wood or rubber-covered pipe to minimize the effects of vibration, chafing and road shock. Securing the ladder to each support point will greatly reduce the damaging effects of road shock.

    Storage racks for ladders not in use should have sufficient supporting points to avoid sagging which can result in warping the ladder. Other materials must not be placed on the ladder while it is in storage.

    Articulated Ladder Safety Standards

    Safety requirements for Construction, Performance, Use and Care of Articulated Ladders can be found in the following standards:

     

  • Combination Ladder

    A Combination Ladder is a portable ladder capable of being used as Stepladder, or as a Single or Extension Ladder. It may also be capable of being used as a Trestle Ladder or as a Stairwell Ladder. Its components may be used as Single Ladders. This type of ladder can be designed with either steps or rungs, and the inclusion of a pail shelf is optional. When steps are present, the ladder should be erected so that the step surfaces are horizontal. Either spreaders or a locking device can be used to securely hold the front and rear sections in the open position.

    Combination Ladder Section Diagram

    An instruction label appears on each Combination Ladder to either illustrate the locking mechanism, provide instructions for the locking mechanism, or both. It is important that the user become familiar with the proper operation of the locking mechanism and make sure all the joints are locked before using the ladder. Never attempt unlocking or repositioning any of the joints while standing on the ladder.

    Another on-product label illustrates all the acceptable uses and positions for a given Combination Ladder. Configurations not illustrated on the label are not to be used.

    The size of a Combination Ladder, when used in the Stepladder configuration, ranges from 4 feet to a maximum of 10 feet, as measured along the front side rail from the bottom of the foot to the top of the top cap or to the top of the top step when no top cap is used. The maximum Extension Ladder length is marked on the identification label.

    All four feet of a Combination Ladder are covered with a slip-resistant material which must be present and in good condition before the ladder is used.

    The ladder must not be used on ice, snow or slippery surfaces unless suitable means to prevent slipping is employed.

    The ladder must never be placed upon other objects such as boxes, barrels, scaffolds, or other unstable bases in an effort to obtain additional height.

    Combination Ladders must not be tied or fastened together with any other type of ladder to provide a longer length.

     

    When used in the Single or Extension Ladder Mode:

    Selection of proper Single or Extension Ladder size requires knowledge of the height of the top support point. In the event the top support point is a roof eave, the top of the ladder must extend approximately three feet above the roof eave if the climbers’ intent is to access the roof. The ladder must also be tied to the upper access level before climbing onto or off the ladder at the upper level. The user must take care when getting on or off the ladder at the upper level in order to avoid tipping the ladder over sideways or causing the ladder base to slide out.

    Single and Extension Ladders should be erected as close to a pitch of 75 1/2 degrees from the horizontal as possible for optimum resistance against the bottom of the ladder sliding out, strength of the ladder, and balance of the climber. A simple rule for setting-up the ladder at the proper angle is to place the base a distance from the wall or upper support equal to one-quarter of the length of the ladder side rails.

    The top of a Single or Extension Ladder must be placed with the two side rails equally supported unless the ladder is equipped with a single-support attachment for situations such a pole light standard, building corner or in-tree type operation such as pruning or fruit picking. When it is necessary to support the top of the ladder at a window opening, a device should be attached across the back of the ladder and extending across the window to provide firm support against the building walls or window frames.

    In cases where the work site imposes a height restriction on the ladder length, the user may find that longer ladders are not capable of being set-up at the proper 75 1/2 degrees angle. To safeguard against the bottom of the ladder sliding out, select a shorter Extension or Single Ladder.

    There are also situations where the use of a particular ladder length creates a gap in the height of a wall that can be reached by the user. For example, a 14-foot Single or Extension Ladder cannot be used to work on a wall below a certain height because the user would be too far out from the wall. Usually, the lower portion of the wall can be reached from the ground up to a height of about 7 feet. When working from the 14-foot Single or Extension Ladder, working from the ladder below 10-feet becomes a problem. These conditions create a gap between 7 and 10-feet in height where another ladder selection is recommended. To work in this zone, a shorter self-supporting ladder such as a Stepladder configuration should be considered.

    In an effort to avoid losing your balance and falling off a Single or Extension Ladder, the user must not step or stand higher than the step indicated on the label marking the highest standing level.

    When used as a Stepladder:

    A Stepladder requires level ground support for all four of its side rails. If this work site condition does not exist, the Stepladder configuration should not be selected for the job.

    In order to prevent tipping the ladder over sideways due to over-reaching, the user must climb or work with the body near the middle of the steps or rungs. The ladder should be set-up close to the work. Never attempt to move the ladder without first descending, relocating the ladder, and then re-climbing. Do not attempt to mount the ladder from the side or step from one ladder to another unless the ladder is secured against sideways motion.

    In an effort to avoid losing your balance and falling off the Stepladder, the user must not step or stand higher than the step indicated on the label marking the highest standing level. The user must also not step or stand on the bucket/pail shelf, if so equipped.

    When ascending or descending the ladder, always face the ladder and maintain a firm hand hold. Do not attempt to carry other objects in your hand(s) while climbing.

    Refer to the manufacturers instructions with regard to whether more than one person is permitted on the Combination Ladder at the same time when in the Stepladder or Trestle Ladder configuration.

    When used as a Stairwell Ladder:

    When used as a self-supporting Stairwell Ladder, a Combination Ladder must not be climbed on its back section.

    Proper Care

    A thorough inspection must be made when the ladder is initially purchased and each time it is placed into service. Clean the climbing and gripping surfaces if they have been subjected to oil, grease or slippery materials. Working parts, bolts, rivets, step-to-side rail connections, and the condition of the anti-slip feet (safety shoes) shall be checked.

    Ladders exposed to excessive heat, as in the case of fire, may have reduced strength. Similarly, ladders exposed to corrosive substances such as acids or alkali materials may experience chemical corrosion and a resulting reduction in strength. Remove these ladders from service.

    Broken or bent ladders, and ladders with missing or worn out parts must be taken out of service and marked, for example, "Dangerous – Do Not Use” until repaired by a competent mechanic or destroyed. No attempt shall be made to repair a ladder with a defective side rail. Ladders with bent or broken side rails must be destroyed.

    In the event a ladder is discarded, it must be destroyed in such a manner as to render it useless. Another person must not be given the opportunity to use a ladder that has been deemed unsafe.

    When transporting ladders on vehicles equipped with ladder racks, the ladders must be properly supported. Overhang of the ladders beyond the support points of the rack should be minimized. The support points should be constructed of material such as wood or rubber-covered pipe to minimize the effects of vibration, chafing and road shock. Securing the ladder to each support point will greatly reduce the damaging effects of road shock.

    Storage racks for ladders not in use should have sufficient supporting points to avoid sagging which can result in warping the ladder. Other materials must not be placed on the ladder while it is in storage.

    Combination Ladder Safety Standards

    Safety requirements for Construction, Performance, Use and Care of Combination Ladders can be found in the following standards:

     

  • Extension Ladder
  • Extension Trestle Ladder
  • Fixed Ladder
  • Job-Made Wooden Ladder
  • Mobile Ladder
  • Platform Ladder
  • Single Ladder
  • Step Stool Ladder
  • Stepladder
  • Trestle Ladder

A description of the Proper Care & Use, Proper Set-Up, Safety Labeling, and the identification of the governing ANSI safety standard for each variation of ladder can be found by clicking on the desired ladder function above.

 

Ladder Terms

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