Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Types of Ladders


When an employee needs to reach a higher work area, the equipment that will be used must be evaluated for both function and safety. While a ladder is commonly used, it might not always be the right choice for the work.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the Here Dan reviews the two types of ladders, freestanding and self-supporting, and how employees can be safe using each.

Real-Life Scenario


On September 5, 2005, a 27-year-old male construction worker was removing aluminum siding while standing on an aluminum ladder on the west side of a house he and his two coworkers were remodeling. The ladder was positioned over a cyclone gate and fence of a neighboring home. It appears that while he was removing the siding, he lost his balance and fell. One of his coworkers was carrying debris to the dumpster on east side of the home. He heard the victim moan. He returned to the victim’s work location and found his coworker’s midsection folded over the gate. The victim’s head and legs were not touching the ground. His midsection was lying across the end cap of the gate, which was about two inches higher than the gate’s top bar. He was also lying across a small nut and bolt, which was about one inch above the top bar. The ladder he was working from was standing against the house, still positioned over the gate. The victim rolled off the gate and landed on the ground. He told his coworker to call 911. His coworker panicked and began to yell for help. A neighbor heard the calls for help and called 911. A passerby provided emergency first aid until emergency response arrived. The victim was transported to a local hospital where he was declared dead.

The cause of death as stated on the death certificate was blunt force abdominal trauma. No autopsy was performed. The results of the toxicology tests were negative for alcohol and other screened drugs.

Investigation Findings

    1. The ladder was not placed at a safe angle.

    2. The ladder used did not have safety feet nor was the ladder secured.

    3. It appeared that the gate was being used to help support the ladder. The moveable gate was not secured against movement.

Scissor Lift
You may need to consider using a scissor lift, if a ladder won’t allow you to perform a job correctly and safely.

Necessary Questions

Ask these questions before deciding on a ladder:

  • Will heavy items be held while on the ladder?
  • Does the elevated area require a long ladder that can be unstable?
  • Will work be performed at this height over an extended period of time?
  • Will working on a ladder require standing sideways or reaching?
  • Are there any obstructions preventing safe ladder use?

If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” then you may need to consider using something other than a ladder. If possible, bring in other equipment such as a scissor lift or scaffolding.

Portable Ladders

ladder parts
Parts of a Ladder
(Click to enlarge)

Portable ladders help you access a work area or provide support while you work. Portable ladders make getting to a work area easy, but they can increase the potential for falls if not used properly. Portable ladders are versatile, economical, and easy to use. However, workers sometimes use them without thinking safety. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that 20 percent of fatal falls at work occur from heights less than 15 feet (4.5 m), and 50 percent of fatal falls are from a height less than 35 feet (10.6 m).

Here are some OSHA requirements for using portable ladders:

  • The minimum clear distance between side rails for all portable ladders must be 11.5 inches (29 cm).
  • The rungs and steps of portable metal ladders must be corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid-resistant material or treated to minimize slipping.
  • Non-self-supporting and self-supporting portable ladders must support at least four times the maximum intended load; extra heavy-duty type 1A metal or plastic ladders must sustain 3.3 times the maximum intended load.
  • When portable ladders are used for access to an upper landing surface, the side rails must extend at least 3 feet (.9 m) above the upper landing surface. When such an extension is not possible, the ladder must be secured and a grasping device such as a grab rail must be provided to assist workers in mounting and dismounting the ladder.
  • A ladder extension must not deflect under a load that would cause the ladder to slip off its supports.

Types of Portable Ladders

We use ladders to do all sorts of tasks, so it's not surprising that many types of ladders are available. Let's look at the most common types.

Straight ladder
Straight Ladder: The most common type of portable ladder. The length cannot exceed 30 feet. It is available in wood, metal and reinforced fiberglass. It supports only one worker.
Platform Ladder: It has a large stable platform near the top that supports only one worker. The length cannot exceed 20 feet.
Extension Ladder: Offers the most length in a general-purpose ladder. They have two or more adjustable sections. The sliding upper section must be on top of the lower section. It is made of wood, metal, or fiberglass. Maximum length depends on material and it supports only one worker.

Types of Ladders (Continued)

Trestle Ladder: These have two sections that are hinged at the top and form equal angles with the base. They are used in pairs to support planks or staging. The rungs are not used as steps. The length cannot exceed 20 feet.
Photo: Courtesy of:
Tripod (Orchard) Ladder: These have a flared base and a single back leg that provides support on soft, uneven ground. The length cannot exceed 16 feet. Metal and reinforced fiberglass versions are available. It supports only one worker.
Photo: Courtesy of:
double cleated
Double-Cleated Ladder: Use a double-cleated ladder with a center rail when ladders are the only way to enter or exit a working area that has more than 25 employees. You can also use this type of ladder to serve as simultaneous two-way traffic.
Photo: Courtesy of:
folding ladder
Standard Folding Ladder: Has flat steps, a hinged back and is not adjustable. Use only on firm, level surfaces. It is available in metal, wood, or reinforced fiberglass. It must have a metal spreader or locking arm and cannot exceed 20 feet. It only supports one worker.
Photo: Courtesy of:

Portable Ladders (Continued)

It's important to choose the right ladder for the right job. Using a ladder for a task that it was not designed for may increase the risk of falling.

Check, Maintain and Store Ladders Well

Before using a ladder, a competent person must inspect the ladder for visible defects, such as broken or missing rungs. If a defective ladder is found, it must be immediately marked with a defective sign or clearly labeled with a “Do Not Use” sign. It should then be taken from service until it is completely repaired.



Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, what percentage of fatal falls occurred in heights less than 35 feet?

2. Non-self-supporting and self-supporting ladders must support at least ___________ times the maximum intended load.

3. The length of a straight ladder cannot exceed 20 feet.

4. Which type of ladder should be used when workers need to enter and exit the working area at the same time?

5. When portable ladders are used for access to an upper landing surface, the side rails must extend at least ___________ above the upper landing surface.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.