Ladders are versatile, useful pieces of equipment used in all industry sectors. Ladders can be fixed or portable. They are mainly used for access type work, like reaching different levels above or below ground (roofs or trenches), and performance type work, such as fixing a light bulb or painting walls.

Falls from all sources, including ladders, are the second largest cause of accidental death in Canada. The proper training and use of the correct equipment will reduce the risks associated with ladders.

Most falls from ladders are traceable to three main problems:

  • The wrong ladder was used.
  • The ladder failed because it was in bad shape or the condition of the surface failed to support the ladder (slippery, unstable or uneven surfaces).
  • The ladder was misused.

There are two types of ladders - fixed and portable. As an employer you must ensure the following:

For fixed ladders

  • Ensure the fixed ladder is the right strength and length, clean and free from grease, maintained in a safe condition, properly secured at all points, and is constructed according to the regulation.
  • Remove a fixed ladder from service when it has loose, broken or missing rungs, split side rails or other defects.
  • Provide ladder cages for a fixed ladder that is more than 6 m in height, except where an employee uses a fall-arresting system.
  • Ensure the ladder cage is constructed according to the regulation.

For portable ladders:

  • Ensure that any portable ladder used at the workplace is of adequate strength and length, clean and free of grease, and maintained in a safe condition.
  • Remove a portable ladder from service when it has loose, broken or missing rungs, split side rails or other defects.
  • Ensure that wooden portable ladders are made of No. 1 grade or better spruce or fir, are not painted (other than preserved with a transparent protective coating), and have rungs and side rails built according to the regulations. Single ladders must not be longer than 6 m.
  • Ensure that portable ladders comply with and are used according to the CSA Group, CSA Standard CAN3-Z11-M81 "Portable Ladders" .
  • Ensure a portable extension ladder has no more than three sections, locks securely, and when extended, maintains the following overlaps:
    • If the ladder is 11 m or less, the overlap must be 1 m.
    • If the ladder exceeds 11 m and is 15 m or less, the overlap must be 1.25 m.
    • If the ladder exceeds 15 m and is 22 m or less, the overlap must be 1.5 m.
  • When an employee is working 3 m or higher on a portable ladder, the work may be done without a fall-protection system if:
    • The work is light duty and of short duration at each location.
    • The employee can maintain their centre of gravity between the ladder side rails.
    • The employee can usually have one hand free to hold on to the ladder or another support, and (three point contact).
    • 3pointcontact
    • The ladder is not near an edge or floor opening that would significantly increase the fall distance.

Special note: If you or your employees work around electricity, do not use an aluminum ladder, as it can conduct electricity when near the electrical lines. If it is not possible to use a non-conductive ladder, other precautions must be taken:

  1. Contact the authority owning or operating the electrical utility line or utility line equipment to ensure that the line or equipment is (a) de-energized or (b) adequately insulated or guarded before permitting any employees to start work.
  2. When an employee who is not a qualified person is about to start work that is liable to bring any person or object closer to an energized electrical line or utility line equipment, the employee must maintain the minimum distances specified in the table.
Phase to Phase Voltage of Energized Electrical Utility Line or Utility Line Equipment Minimum Distance
Up to 750 v 900 mm
751 to 100,000 v 3.6 m
100,001 to 250,000 v 5.2 m
250,000 to 345,000 v 6.1 m

The minimum distances apply to all objects, including scaffolds, hand tools, ladders, heavy equipment, etc. If in doubt, assume it is750 volts or greater.

As an employer you also must:

  • Train your employees on ladder safety. A ladder safety program should cover purchasing, selection, inspection, tag out, use, storage.
  • Training should include:
    • How to inspect ladders for defects before each use.
    • How to select the right ladder for the task at hand(for example, the different ladders available for performance and access type work).
    • Procedures for safe use of ladders near electricity by using ladders rated for near electrical work, such as those made from fiberglass.
    • Correct set-up of extension ladders (follow the 1:4 rule: the base should be 1 foot from the wall for every 4 feet in height). Awareness that extension ladders must extend 1 m (3 feet) beyond the top resting point when used for climbing onto a platform.
    • Correct tie-off of an extension ladder (rest both side rails on the top support, tie off ladder at the top and secure bottom to prevent it from slipping).
    • The 3-point climbing method (maintain three point contact by keeping two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on ladder at all times).
  • Provide necessary fall protection when working at heights above 3 m.
  • Provide necessary warning signs and barricades and ensure employees use them to warn other employees when people are working on ladders.
  • Review unsafe activities that lead to injuries:
    • Do not lean from a ladder to reach work - reposition the ladder.
    • Do not step on the top cap, the top rung, the bucket holder, or the back of the step ladder.
    • Do not bring loads up, carry objects or tools in your hands. Use a sack strapped over the shoulder or otherwise secured to the person, or hoist it up or down using an appropriate method (lifting hoists, elevators, scissor lifts, etc.)
    • Avoid climbing with wet footwear or rungs.
    • Do not use a ladder in passageways, doorways, driveways or other locations where it can be hit. Erect suitable barricades or lock doors shut.
    • Do not place a ladder against flexible or movable surfaces.

An employee must:

When using a portable ladder:

  • Inspect the ladder before use.
  • Report unsafe conditions to the employer.
  • Face the ladder and use both hands when climbing both up and down (three-point contact!).
  • When on the ladder, stand in the centre between the side rails.
  • Make sure the ladder is secured and will not move.
  • Make sure the side rails of the ladder go at least 1 m above the platform or landing that you will step on.
  • Make sure that legs on a step ladder are held securely by the brace or equivalent.

An employee will not:

  • Splice ladders together.
  • Place a ladder in front or against a door, unless the door is blocked open, locked or guarded.
  • Use a ladder as scaffold flooring, or to support scaffold flooring.
  • Stand on the material shelf, the top cap, or the top rung.
  • Work from the top three rungs of a portable single or extension ladder.

Proper selection and set-up

Choosing the right ladder is the first step to safety.

In Canada, new ladders are approved by the CSA Group and rated for how much load they can carry (heavy, medium, or light), and for the type of use (industrial, trade or household). Most ladders are made of wood, aluminum or fiberglass. If you work around electricity, do not use an aluminum ladder, as it can conduct electricity when near the electrical lines.

Straight, extension and stepladders are known as portable ladders. Appendix A and Appendix B of CSA Standard CAN 3-Z11-M81 provide additional information with respect to the proper selection, inspection, set-up, use, care, and storage of portable ladders. Straight and extension ladders are to be used against a wall, and normally for outdoor work. These ladders need to be placed very carefully; wrong setup is the single largest source of accidents. If the ladder slips at the base, you will fall. Safe ladder use includes:

  • Placing the ladder on clear level ground free of ice, snow, water and sand.
  • Following the 1:4 rule: the base should be 1 foot from the wall for every 4 feet in height.
  • Not climbing above the fourth rung from the top of an extension ladder.
  • If the ladder is used to access a flat roof for instance, it should rise about 1 m or 3 feet above that surface.

Stepladders - are common in workplaces and handy around the house. Safe ladder use includes:

  • The spreader arms must be locked in the open position with all four legs evenly grounded.
  • Staying off the top two rungs of a stepladder and using your knees for balance by resting them against the ladder.
  • Never standing on top of the ladder or on the paint shelf.
  • If you need a straight ladder, don't try and make a closed stepladder do the job.

Platform ladders - are larger metal ladders used in warehouses and industrial locations where good stability and a large flat work surface are needed.

Fixed ladders - adhere to the sides of buildings, tanks, and towers and must be equipped with a safety cage where it is more than 6 m in height, unless the employee on the ladder uses a fall-arresting system. Safe use of fixed ladders includes:

  • Maintaining at least 165 mm clearance between the rungs and the structure to which the ladder is affixed.
  • Fixing the ladder so that no rungs extend above a landing.
  • Making sure a fixed ladder has side rails or other secure handholds that extend at least 1.07 m above the landing and are spaced not less than 685 mm apart.
  • Removing the ladder from service when it has loose, broken or missing rungs, split side rails or other defects that may be hazardous to an employee.

Ship's ladders are a type of fixed ladder used in particular situations. A ship's ladder must:

  • Be designed so the angle between the side rails and the horizontal is between 50° and 70°. The preferred angle is in the range of 60° to 68°.
  • Serve only a single platform or landing and have a maximum height of 4 m (12 feet).
  • Have tread width of at least 130 mm (5 inches), with a non-skid finish, uniformly spaced (rise) at no more than 305 mm (12 inches). Treads should be at least 430 mm (17 inches) long, but not longer than 630 mm (24 inches).
  • Have a minimum design working load of 1.1 kilo newton (kN) (250 pounds) applied uniformly to a 90 mm (3.5 inch) strip across the centre of the tread.
  • Have handrails provided on both sides of the ladder at approximately 900 mm (36 inches) above the tread nosing.
  • Have a safety guard installed parallel to the slope of the ladder and offset approximately 150 mm (6 inches) from the rear of the treads. (This guard is to stop an employee's leg from passing through to the backside of the ladder if a foot slips off the back side of the tread.)

In addition, it should be noted that a ship's ladder is a permanent load-carrying structure and needs to be properly engineered. Design drawings and specifications should show all information necessary for the fabrication and installation of the ship's ladder, including details on how it is to be secured in place. The completed installation will need to be certified by a professional engineer as being fabricated and installed in accordance with good engineering practice.

Inspect the ladder

A ladder must also be cleaned, and maintained in good condition. Ladders don't last forever and should be looked over thoroughly before each use for signs of:

  • Wear: weakened or twisted frames.
  • Loose rungs or hardware.
  • Worn out anti-slip plastic or rubber shoes.

This inspection is required regardless of the type of ladder you are working with.