Ladder Falls Are More Dangerous Than You Think


Ladders are one of the most commonly used pieces of equipment to elevate Workers to higher or lower levels. They are also one of the most common sources of injury. Annually, more than 22% of all fatal and nonfatal construction fall accidents involve a portable ladder.

The risk of falling associated with ladders can be traced to five primary causes:

  1. a failure to select the appropriate ladder for the job;
  2. a failure to inspect the ladder before using;
  3. failure to properly set-up the ladder;
  4. a failure to properly use the ladder and
  5. a failure to properly care and store the ladder.

Each risk is briefly discussed below:

Ladder Selection

Selecting the right ladder for the task and the environment the task is going to be performed in is critical. There are four components a Contractor needs to consider for proper ladder selection:

  1. ladder type;
  2. ladder size;
  3. ladder strength; and
  4. ladder material


Ladder Types

There are many different types of ladders.  It is critical that Contractors select and provide Workers the right ladder, ladder material, and ladder size for the job.  Generally, there are three main portable ladder types:

  1. leaning ladders;
  2. non-leaning ladders; and
  3. combination ladders.


Leaning Ladders

Leaning ladders are “non-self supporting”.  That is, they do not stand up by themselves, they lean.  They require a stable base to be placed on and stable structure to lean up against to support the climber.  Leaning ladders can be a single section or a multi-section extension ladder.



Non-leaning ladders are self-supporting.  They depend on an even, stable ground surface to place all four legs. The most common type of non-leaning ladders is a step-ladder or an “A-frame” ladder.  Another type of self-supporting ladder is a “trestle ladder”.  A trestle ladder is similar to an “A-frame” ladder but has a vertically adjustable extension section.



A combination, or articulated ladder, is a portable ladder with one or more pairs of locking hinges which allow the ladder to be set up in a variety of configurations. The ladder can be used as a leaning ladder, step-ladder, or can be locked in multiple positions of these to allow set-up on different surface levels. Some ladders can be locked in one or more positions to accommodate the various configurations.


Ladder Size/Strength

Equally as important as selecting the right type of ladder, is selecting the right size and durability of the ladder needed for the particular job.  Not all ladders are created equally. Some are built for light household use (like reaching a ceiling light bulb) and some are built for heavy industrial use (like reaching a work area several stories above ground). A contractor needs to evaluate the work environment and the task to be performed to properly determine both the length and the weight capacity (duty rating) of the ladder.


· Ladder Length:  One of the most common and potentially dangerous ladder selection mistakes is using a ladder that is too long or too short. Additionally, Contractors must ensure Workers understand the highest permitted standing level for each ladder and the maximum safe reaching height of ladders. Shown below are guides for extension and stepladders:



Height to Top Support

Use This Ladder

Max Reach




9’ to 13’



13’ to 17’



17’ to 21’



21’ to 25’



24’ to 28’



28’ to 31’





Ladder Height

Max   Reach

















· Ladder Strength:  Ladders are each specifically designed and constructed to hold a maximum amount of weight. A ladder’s strength is referred to as its duty rating (also known as its performance rating).  A duty rating is the indication of the maximum weight load capacity the ladder can safely hold (including weight of worker and material/tools).  Ladders are generally broken down into five rating types as shown below:


Ladder Type

Duty Rating



375 lb.

Extra-heavy duty industrial


300 lb.




250 lb.




225 lb.

Medium-duty commercial


200 lb.

Light-duty household

Ladder Materials

Selecting the right ladder materials is another very important factor influencing safety of Workers. Ladders are generally built from three different materials: (1) wood; (2) fiberglass; and (3) metal (aluminum/steel).  The type of working environment and task to be performed will dictate which ladder material is most appropriate for safety.

  1. Wood:  Wood ladders are usually the least expensive and are most popular for consumer use.  Wood is subject to splintering and warping and they typically do not hold up well in outdoor use. Over time, they can lose their strength and stability.
  2. Metal:  Aluminum ladders are light weight, and often inexpensive.  However, they are prone to bending under heavy use.  Steel ladders, on the other hand, are much more durable and better withstand stress than aluminum.  Use of metal ladders should be avoided anytime work is being performed around electricity.
  3. Fiberglass:  For most construction tasks, fiberglass ladders are the preferred choice for safety.  They are nearly as light as aluminum ladders, but significantly more durable.  However they are generally the most expensive ladder which causes some contractors to look to less expensive options.


Suffer a serious injury after a fall from a ladder on a job site? Call the attorneys at Boyk Law immediately at 419-241-1395 or Live Chat on our website 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’d be happy to provide you with a free copy of Injured Worker’s Guide: Ohio Construction Accidents.

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