Home & Garden

Ladder safety

For safety and practical purposes, a reliable ladder should be chosen to suit your task.

Many homes in San Francisco feature high ceilings, making simple tasks like changing a lightbulb sometimes difficult. A reliable ladder is useful and neccessary around the house, and for safety and practical purposes, should be chosen to suit your task.

The three basic types of ladders are extension (straight), step, and combination step/extension. Ladders are rated by load capacity and grade (household, commercial, and industrial; see table below). Ladder rungs are either flat, round or D shaped. The minimum size considered acceptable for round rungs is 1¼” to 1½” for D rungs. To ensure safety, rungs are required to carry a much higher load than the rated load for the entire ladder.


Type of activity involved. The type of activity dictates which type of ladder you’ll need. Use a stepladder for interior painting, dry walling, spackling, and wallpapering. Stepladders include stepstools and platform ladders, generally for home or light commercial use. Stepladders are self-supporting and may include a pail hook or shelf. Extension ladders are best for painting exteriors, cleaning gutters, replacing shutters and siding, and other areas involving height.

Demands of the application: Make sure the ladder is suitable for the physical demands of the application. The rated load capacity must exceed the maximum aggregate weight of the user along with his or her clothing and tools. Duty ratings are also color-coded. Look for the proper duty ratings to match the highest level of use.

Height the ladder must reach. For a climber to work from a safe position, the ladder’s top should extend about three feet above the working surface when in use. Stepladders should be high enough for the user not to have to stand above the second step from the top. On extension ladders, stand no more than four rungs from the top.

Basic material. The most common ladder materials are wood, aluminum, and fiberglass. Wood ladders are nonconductive when clean and dry. Wood also provides a natural firm grip for feet and hands. However, wood tends to be heavy, and is vulnerable to moisture and therefore rot. Aluminum is lightweight and strong, but does conduct electricity, so aluminum ladders should never be used when working near energized electrical lines. Fiberglass offers a blend of desirable qualities. It is nonconductive, strong, and an excellent choice for a variety of activities.


  • Learn the proper methods for working with a ladder
  • Keep your ladders well maintained (for wood, treat with a wood preservative that leaves a clear surface)
  • Choose duty ratings to match the highest level of use

Ladder safety tips – DON’T

  • Use or repair a bent or damaged ladder
  • Test a ladder by jumping on it
  • Use a ladder on slippery surfaces or uneven ground
  • Place ladder feet on power cords or have the ladder meet electrical current or power lines
  • Climb down a ladder with your back to the ladder or carrying a load in your arms
  • Overreach, lean to one side, or stand on one foot
  • Hurry or skip steps when getting on or off a ladder
  • Leave a ladder unattended
  • Position the ladder where it blocks foot traffic or where it could be bumped by a door
  • Place the ladder on boxes, chairs, furniture, or other moveable object to try to climb higher
  • Climb from one ladder to another or try to move a ladder while still standing on it
  • Climb a ladder when ill or using drugs or alcohol
  • Drop or throw ladders
  • Paint a wooden ladder (paint hides damage and can create a slippery surface for climbing)
Extension Ladder Length Chart

Height to eaves Buy this Length Max.Working Length
9½’ max. 16’ 13’
9½’ – 13½’ 20’ 17’
13½’ – 17½’ 24’ 21’
17½’ – 21½’ 28’ 25’
21½’ – 25’ 32’ 29’
25’ – 28’ 36’ 32’
28’ – 31’ 40’ 35’

Ladder Duty Rating Table

Extra-Heavy-Duty Industrial IA 300 lbs. BLACK
Heavy-Duty Industrial I 250 lbs. BLUE
Medium-Duty Commercial II 225 lbs. YELLOW
Light-Duty Household III 200 lbs RED

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator for Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].