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At Home Safety Tips for Using Ladders and Step Stools

Ladders are one of the most common home improvement tools, but they can also be one of the most hazardous. Don’t let a simple task put you out of commission with a serious injury. Take safety into your own hands by taking ladder safety seriously.

A man and a woman carrying a ladder together inside a home.

Make sure to choose the right ladder for the job. Ladders are typically made from one of three basic materials: wood, fiberglass or metal (aluminum). When working near electricity, do not use a metal ladder.

Look for the duty rating that can be found on a label on the ladder. The duty rating is the total amount of weight your ladder will support. Make sure that the work you are doing with the ladder does not exceed the ladder’s maximum load rating.

  • Step Stoolrecommended for projects under 8 feet
  • Step Laddergreat for tasks like changing a light bulb or a smoke detector battery
  • Platform Ladderhandy if both hands are needed for a project like painting, or if the task takes longer
  • Extension Ladderto get even higher for tasks like cleaning gutters or hanging holiday decorations
  • Articulating Ladderversatile multi-purpose ladder can be used as a step ladder, extension ladder, a staircase ladder or even a 90-degree leaning ladder

Inspect the ladder before every use to be sure everything is in working order. If any part of the ladder is damaged, broken or missing, do not use it! Never use one side of a disassembled step ladder as an extension ladder.

Read the instructions that come with the ladder as well as the safety information label(s) on the ladder before using it. Always use the ladder as intended and follow all manufacturer’s warnings for the specific type of ladder you are using.

If a ladder has been in contact with oil, grease or any other material that may cause it to become slippery when used, carefully clean the ladder to ensure it resumes its original, safe condition.

Use a ladder with non-slip feet set up on a firm, level, non-slippery surface. If you are using a step ladder, make sure that all four feet are supported so that the ladder doesn’t rock. If a ladder must be set up in front of a door, make sure the door is locked, blocked open or properly guarded.

A person dangerously standing on the very top step of a step ladder.
Never stand on the top rung or step of the step ladder.  This makes the ladder very unstable and prone to tip over!

Ensure extension ladders are placed at a proper angle before climbing up and when in use.

For every four feet high, the base of the extension ladder should be one foot out away from the wall or other surface it is leaning against. For example: If the ladder is 12 feet high the base should be moved away from the wall or other sturdy structure by 3 feet.

ALWAYS lean the extension ladder on a stable structure that can withstand the intended load when in use. Do Not lean extension ladders against unstable surfaces such as stacked boxes or materials.

ALWAYS allow at least 3 feet (36 inches) of the extension ladder to extend above the edge or point of support when used to reach another surface. An extension ladder is too long if it extends more than 3 feet beyond the upper support point, as it can act like a lever and cause the base of the ladder to move or slide out.

NEVER stand on the three top rungs of an extension ladder.

The two most common ladder accidents include:

  1. Missing the last step when climbing down
  2. Overreaching

To avoid common ladder accidents, remember these safety precautions:

Wear clean, slip-resistant shoes to maximize traction and avoid slipping.

To keep your balance, always maintain three points of contact—two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand—while climbing up or down a ladder.

Always face the ladder when climbing. Don’t skip steps when climbing up or down.

Don’t carry tools in your hand when climbing a ladder. Instead, you can use a tool pouch, a tool belt, or ask someone to be your assistant.

Be attentive to foot placement on each step and pay close attention to what you are doing. Exercise caution and look for every step.

Don’t overreach. Keep your center of gravity, and your body, between the side rails. If you can’t easily reach what you need, climb down and move the ladder for easier and safe access to the project area.

A crying baby stuck on the bottom rung of a ladder set up inside a house.
Never leave a ladder set up and unattended, especially if there are any children around.

Unlike step ladders, step stools are designed in a way that allows a person to stand on the top step, also known as the top cap.

Do not use a step stool in a closed position, like a small extension ladder, or in a partially open position. Every time a step stool is used, the base must be spread fully open with the spreaders locked. Always ensure the locking mechanism is engaged before climbing.

Always climb onto a step stool from the front. Do not climb onto a step stool at an angle or from the side or back. Never climb or stand on the braces at the rear of the step stool.

Never attempt to move the step stool while standing on it, or by standing on something else (like a shelf) and pushing the step stool with your foot. Always get down from the step stool and move it to the next secure and stable location you need to use it before climbing on again.

Because step stools are not fixed ladders, do not step onto a step stool from another platform. For example, do not climb from one step stool to another step stool in order to save time.

Step stools should never be used on any slippery surface or on snow or ice.

When using, do not place a step stool on top of another object like boxes, a desk, or a table. If additional height is required, use a ladder more suitable to the task that can be used safely.

A person holding and carrying a step ladder.

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