Guide to Inspect Ladders and Work Safely on Them

| September 25, 2017

Falls remain the leading cause of unintentional death nationwide. Falls from ladders make up 20 percent of all fall injuries and fatalities in general industry. In the construction industry, this number is even higher, at 80 percent.

Falls from ladders are attributed to one or more of the following:

  • Poor condition of the ladder
  • Incorrectly positioned ladder
  • Ladder placed on uneven or slippery surfaces
  • Wrong techniques applied when working on the ladder

A competent person must thoroughly inspect ladders for any defects before each use. Follow this handy guide to inspect portable ladders before you start working on them.

Inspect Ladder Safety First Sign

Check for these signs of damage and unsuitable conditions for using ladders:

General inspection:

  • Loose parts: steps or rungs, nails, screws, bolts, and other materials
  • Broken, cracked, or split braces, steps, rungs, or uprights
  • Missing steps or rungs
  • Splinters on uprights, rungs, or cleats
  • Splinters or decay on wooden ladders
  • Opaque coatings on wooden ladders (opaque paints hide defects in ladders and hinder inspection)
  • Corrugated steps or rungs on metal ladders
  • Grease, oil, or other slippery substance
  • Loose joints between rungs and side rails
  • Damaged non-slip bases
  • Cracks or splitting on rails
  • Restricted movement on otherwise moveable parts
  • Deformities on rails or rungs from heat, chemical or environmental exposure (in fiberglass ladders)

In addition to the inspection above, look for these defects when using:


  • Loose or worn parts when the ladder is in the open position
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Unlocked or bent hinge spreaders
  • Broken stop on hinge spreaders
  • Sharp edges on spreaders
  • Loose hinges

Stepladders should not exceed 20 feet in length.

Extension ladders:

  • Broken, loose, or missing extension locks
  • Defective locks that do not seat properly when ladder is extended
  • Worn or frayed rope

Extension ladders must extend at least 3 feet, and at most 4 feet, beyond the edge they rest against.

If the ladder is damaged, make sure to mark it with appropriate tags to prevent its use.

Do Not Use Ladder Danger TagRemove from Service and Destroy Ladder Tag

You can also use ladder sign shield kits that lock the rungs to render the ladder unusable.

Positioning ladders

Keep Ladder Access Clear Notice Sign

  • Always use ladders designed for that purpose.
  • Keep areas near base and top of the ladder free of clutter
  • Erect ladders on a steady, dry, and non-slippery surface; never on top of boxes or racks, etc. Use a leveler, mudsill, or other firm material to align the ladder on the same level if one foot of the ladder lies in a low spot.
  • Post barricades and erect signs when using ladders in a crowded area
  • Do not erect ladders in front of doorways, hallways, driveways unless the door is locked or a guard is posted
  • Place the ladder such that the base of the ladder is one foot away for every four feet in height of the ladder

Operating ladders safely

Use 3 Point Contact Ladder Notice Sign

  • Read all the markings on the ladder and use a ladder as per manufacturer’s instructions
  • Do not exceed the load limit set by the manufacturer. Note the load rating (including the weight of tools or equipment to be used on it)
  • Look for overhead power lines before using the ladder. Do not use metal ladders near power lines or exposed electrical sources
  • Maintain a 3-point contact (two hands and a foot OR two feet and a hand) while climbing a ladder
  • Always face the ladder while climbing and position your body near middle of the step.
  • Do not overreach when on the ladder. Dismount the ladder and reposition it to get to another spot
  • Do not step on the top step or rung of a ladder unless it was specifically designed for it
  • Do not use the top three steps or rungs of a single or extension ladder
  • Do not move a ladder when a person is on it

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