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How to Work Safely on a Ladder

First-time homeowner and TOH host Kevin O'Connor steps up and demonstrates how to work safely on a ladder

Photo by Bevan Walker

First-time homeowner and TOH host Kevin O'Connor steps up

and demonstrates how to work safely on a ladder.

On a Stepladder

•Climb only the front of the ladder, never the back.

•Don't climb higher than the tread that's third from the top (there should two steps above you, including the top); never sit on the top.

•Keep your hips centered between the vertical side rails; don't overreach to either side.

•Never stand on the spreaders or paint shelf.

•Don't leave ladders unattended, especially around children.

•Allow only one person on the ladder at a time.

•Never lean a closed stepladder against a wall and climb it; it can slide out from under you.

On Extension Ladders

Moving an Extension Ladder

• To raise the ladder into place, lay it on the ground with the feet braced against the side of the house, then walk it upright hand over hand. Once the ladder is as close to vertical as possible, walk the base out to create the proper 75-degree angle.

• Dig out the ground to make sure the feet are level.

• Remove all tools and materials from the ladder before moving it.

Working on an Extension Ladder

• Don't climb higher than the fourth rung from the top (there should be three above you).

• Never bounce or "walk" the top of a ladder to the right or left to extend your reach.

• Use wood or fiberglass—not aluminum—ladders anywhere near power lines.

• Your hands should be free to ascend or descend.

• Always face the ladder when ascending or descending.

• Wear a toolbelt, including a holster or hook for power tools, or raise and lower materials and tools with a rope.

• Keep your hips centered between the vertical side rails; don't overreach to either side.

• Wear shoes with well-defined heels (not sneakers) and be sure shoes are clean before climbing.

Stepping onto the Roof

• Be sure the ladder extends 3 feet above the point

of contact.

• Hold the ladder securely with both hands and swing one leg around to step off onto the roof.

• To get back onto the ladder, hold it and swing a leg onto the rung while facing the roof; never step over the top rung or attempt to go down with your back to the ladder.

Buying Guide:

Trying to pick the right ladder from

a 20-foot-high stack at the home center will leave you dizzy. We've answered some questions that will help you sift through the options.

What should the ladder be made of?

Wood: Economical and stable, though longer straight ladders can flex. Wood is nonconductive when clean and dry, but it is very heavy. Rungs or treads should be let into rails and allow for retightening.

Aluminum: Lightweight, rigid, and strong, but conductive (never use near electrical wires).

Fiberglass: Strong and corrosion- resistant, it is also nonconductive for use near electrical lines. But fiberglass is expensive and relatively heavy.

What do duty ratings mean?

Type III: Household light duty; 200 lb*

Type II: Commercial medium duty; 225 lb

Type I: Industrial heavy duty; 250 lb

Type IA: Industrial extra-heavy duty; 300 lb

Type IAA: Professional special duty; 375 lb

• *Includes total weight of user, materials, and tools.

How tall does your ladder need to be?


• To reach 7 feet: 3-foot ladder

• To reach 8 feet: 4-foot ladder

• To reach 10 feet: 6-foot ladder

• To reach 11 feet: 7-foot ladder

• To reach 12 feet: 8-foot ladder

• To reach 14 feet: 10-foot ladder

• To reach 16 feet: 12-foot ladder

• To reach 18 feet: 14-foot ladder

• To reach 20 feet: 16-foot ladder

Extension Ladder

• To reach 15 feet: 16-foot ladder

• To reach 19 feet: 20-foot ladder

• To reach 23 feet: 24-foot ladder

• To reach 27 feet: 28-foot ladder

• To reach 31 feet: 32-foot ladder

• To reach 34 feet: 36-foot ladder

• To reach 37 feet: 40-foot ladder