Persona falling back off of a ladderIn 2020, there were 161 fatal work injuries where ladders were the primary cause. Employees feel safe on ladders because they are a part of non-work lives. However, that will not stop them from falling and getting seriously hurt.

Almost every business uses ladders in some capacity. Some employees will be using them every day but others will only occasionally use them, such as getting down holiday decorations from storage.

For information on protecting yourself and workers from a ladder injury, see the sections below. The Requirements and Policies section has information for employers on how to comply with rules about ladders and avoid citations.


Getting Started

The first step creating a ladder safety program is determining what type of ladders your employees use, as well as evaluate whether that is the best ladder for the job. When evaluating ladders, you need to look at what material the ladder is made of, you might want an aluminum ladder one day because it is lightweight, and a fiberglass ladder another day because you are using electrical tools. Additionally, employees will need training on how to inspect and use ladders.

Types of ladders

There are many types of ladders available to you. Below is a list of some of the most common types of ladders you will see on the job.

  • Straight Ladder – A ladder that you can lean against a surface, such as a house, which supports the ladder.
  • Extension Ladder – An extension ladder is a straight ladder that has another ladder attached to it allowing you to go higher. They require additional maintenance.
  • A-frame, Step or Self-supporting Ladders – These ladders support themselves and can be set up away from walls, etc.
  • Fixed Ladders - A ladder permanently attached to a building or structure. These least likely to shift/fall during use and often do not require anyone to carry it or set it up.
  • Orchard Ladders – These have only 3 legs and mostly used to gain access inform soft soil up to typically fruit-bearing trees.
  • Multi-Use Ladders – These are the most versatile. They can function as a stepladder, an extension ladder, or turned into a scaffold. However, the ladders are often heavy and expensive.
  • Job Built Ladders – Mostly on construction sites, these need to be approved by a professional engineer and are built for a specific job and then destroyed when done.


  • Wood – Wood ladders provide good insulation from heat/cold and feel natural when climbing but, they require additional maintenance and are heavy.
  • Aluminum – Aluminum ladders are lightweight and corrosion resistant but are dangerous when working around electricity.
  • Fiberglass – Fiberglass ladders are durable, weather resistant, non-conductive and does not need the same maintenance that wood ladders need. But it is heavy, can chip and crack when not handled properly, and is damaged by exposure to UV light like sunlight or welding spark.


  • A competent person needs to inspect the ladder before it goes into use or if its has been potentially damaged.
  • Every ladder user needs to inspect the ladder before they use it for the day.


Train all employees who may use a ladder how to inspect it and use it safely by the competent person. Retrain employees as needed.

Requirements & Policies

Summary of requirements

  • Setting up a ladder – Before setting up the ladder, perform an inspection and place the ladder in a location that it will not be impacted by pedestrian or vehicle traffic.
    • Make sure the ladder feet are on stable material and that they cannot slip out.
    • 4:1 Rule: Place straight & extension ladder at a safe angle, for every 4 feet up it should be 1 foot out from the structure, or it should be at 75° angle.
  • Load rating – Before using a ladder verify that it can hold you and all your equipment. Ladders need to have clear labels on them that tell you how much weight they can hold. Some ladders should only be used for household use.
Duty Rating​ Ladder Type​ Maximum Intended Load
(in pounds)​
Extra Heavy​ IA / IAA 300 / 375
Heavy​ I 250
Medium​ II 225
Light​ III 200
  • Unbalanced while on ladder – Most falls occur when the ladder tips over.
    • Use three points of contact.
    • Always face the ladder when going up or down on the ladder.
    • Stay centered on the ladder, reaching sideways past the ladder side rails is an accident waiting to happen.
    • Don’t carry items in your arms that could unbalance you instead use a tool belt, backpack or pull it up after you are done going up or down the ladder.
  • 3-foot rule – When using a ladder to reach a higher level (such as a roof) the top of the ladder must reach at least 3 feet past the edge of the level and be secured from slipping.
  • Fall Protection – When the top of a fixed ladder is 24 feet or more from the lower level on a ladder the worker must use fall protection.
  • Electrical Hazards – Always use a fiberglass ladder if there is any chance of contact with electricity. Never use a ladder or any other tools within 10 feet of energized electrical equipment such as power lines.
  • Top Step – Never stand on the top step or the cap of a portable ladder when the manufacturer prohibits it.
  • Competent Person - The employer appoints employees based on knowledge and experience to be a Competent Person for ladders.

They are the only employees with authority to train ladder users, and inspect ladders before they are put into service or determine if a damaged ladder is safe to used or the repairs are adequate. Table 1 instructions the competent person what to inspect.

Table 1: Ladder Inspection Criteria

When the ladder is: Do the following:
First Placed into service & as necessary while in service​ First Placed into service & as necessary while in service Inspect the ladder for visible defects, including, but not limited to:
  1. Working parts; and
  2. Rung or step connections to the side rails.
Damaged by impact or tips over 1. Visually inspect the ladder for dents, bends, cracks or splits​
  1. Visually inspect the ladder for dents, bends, cracks or splits
  2. Check:
  1. Rung or step connections to the side rails.
  2. Hardware connections.
  3. Rivets for shear damage.
  4. All other components.
Exposed to excessive heat such as fire​
  1. Visually inspect the ladder for damage.
  2. Test for deflection and strength characteristics using the “in-service use tests” contained in the appropriate ANSI standard.
Exemption Job-made wooden ladders are not to be subjected to load or impact tests. Those tests may weaken lumber components or fasteners, causing hidden damage that could result in sudden failure during use.​


  • Chapter 296-876, WAC (This chapter applies to portable and fixed ladders, including job-made wooden ladders).

Enforcement Policies (when applicable)

Training & Resources

Meeting Workplace Safety & Health Requirements

You can use these materials to meet specific requirements in L&I Safety & Health rules. You can use other materials as well.


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