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Ohio State University Extension


Proper Use of Ladders

Agricultural Tailgate Safety Training for Operators and Supervisors
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Agricultural Safety and Health Program

Objective: To be able to demonstrate the safe use ladders that are used primarily for construction and/or maintenance jobs.

Trainer’s Note

Read through the entire module prior to beginning the training session. Have ladders available to demonstrate the information about ladder safety. Review the true or false quiz.


Many ladder incidents occur when a worker falls from a ladder or when the ladder falls because it is being used incorrectly. Ladder incidents can lead to serious injuries and fatalities, so it is important to know which ladder is best suited for the task at hand and how to appropriately use it.

Inspection Checklist for Potential Hazards
Metal Ladders Wood Ladders Fiberglass Ladders
sharp edges splits loose components
dents cracks missing components
bent steps chips cracks
bent rungs or rails loose rungs or steps chips
no slip-resistant rubber or plastic feet    

Basic Steps That Should Be Taken Before Climbing a Ladder

Ladder Weight Classes
Industrial Heavy duty with a load capacity of not more than 250 pounds.
Commercial Medium duty with a load capacity of not more than 225 pounds. Suited for painting.
Household Light duty with a load capacity of 200 pounds.
  • Consider the type of work to be done before choosing a ladder.
  • Be certain the ladder is able to carry the amount of weight that will be applied.
  • Make sure the ladder is placed on a firm level surface.
  • Check the condition of the ladder.

Step Ladders

  • Be certain the spreader is locked before climbing on the ladder.
  • Never stand on the top or top step of a stepladder.

Extension and Straight Ladders

  • Raise the extension ladder to the desired height and lock both sides.
  • Never stand on the top three rungs of a straight or extension ladder.
  • Don't lean a ladder against a movable object.
  • Always face the ladder and hold onto the side rails with both hands, when going up or down the ladder.
Illustration of four-to-one rule with top of ladder resting on roof edge and ladder bottom four feet out from roof line, sixteen foot height.
Four-to-one Rule
For every 4 feet of rise, the base of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the object on which the top of the ladder is resting.

Proper Ladder Placement

The ladder should be placed so that its base is 1 foot away from what the ladder leans against for every 4 feet in height to the point where the ladder rests. This is referred to as the “four-to-one” rule. For example, if a 16-foot ladder leans against a wall, its base should be placed 4 feet from the wall. A ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend 3 feet above the point of support.


  • Never use a ladder in a strong wind.
  • Never use a ladder in front of a door unless it is locked, blocked, or guarded.
  • Inspect ladders for potential dangers before using.
  • Keep your body centered between the rails of the ladder.
  • Always maintain three points of contact on the ladder when climbing.
  • Never carry tools or materials in your hand when going up or down a ladder.
  • Only one person should be on a ladder at a time.
  • If one must work near power lines, always use a wooden or fiberglass ladder. NEVER work with a metal ladder around power lines.
Illustration of a person on a ladder, with two hands on the rungs and one foot, demonstrating the three-point contact rule.

Review the Following Points

  • Choose the right ladder for the intended job.
  • Know the potential hazards when using a ladder.
  • Know the proper placement of ladders.
  • Always use three points of contact.

About These Modules

The Ag Tailgate Training Series was developed by members of the Agricultural Safety and Health Program in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Revised by Dee Jepsen, State Agricultural Safety Leader, with editing assistance by Lisa Pfeifer and Cody McClain.

True or False Answer Key

  1. F
  2. T
  3. T
  4. F
  5. F

Three-point contact ladder image from OSHA.


Quiz: Proper Use of Ladders



True or False?    

1. Stand on the top three rungs of a straight or extension ladder.   T F
2. The 4-to-1 rule should be applied when leaning a ladder against an object. T F
3. Keep the body centered between the rails of the ladder.   T F
4. It is a good idea to use a ladder in windy conditions. T F
5. A wood ladder is safe to use if it has cracks and splits, as long as it doesn't have any missing rungs. T F







Originally posted Jul 25, 2019.