Safe Ladder Selection

Safe Ladder Selection

Ladders are used on every construction site and almost every home has one as well. When I worked at the local hardware store as a teenager, most of the people coming in to purchase a ladder were not 100% sure what it was they needed, or really required. So for this week’s talk, I want to talk about what you need to know for safe ladder selection for a job.

Step Ladder vs. Extension Ladder

This question should be straight forward just looking at the heights that can be reached. Extension ladders reach much higher, be able to go to up to over 60 ft. Step ladders can go up to 20 ft. With step ladders, though, you CANNOT set them up against a wall. They are designed to be open, with the spreader bars down, so that the feet are flat on the ground. If you need to lean a ladder against a wall or similar object, remember that an extension ladder’s feet to be positioned 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet up the wall (4:1 ratio). You also need to ensure that the feet are flat or the spikes are digging into the ground if working on dirt.

Height of the Ladder

As previously stated, the two main types of ladder come in different heights. You need to be sure that the ladder that you use is the right height for the work that you are doing.  On stepladders there is warning that you cannot work above the second step from the top. On extension ladders, the rule is not work above the third step from the top. The CSA standard for ladders adds another rule that I had never heard before I read it: CSA Z11-12, section 6.3.6 “When the extension ladders is fully extended, it should overlap the base section by:

Base Section Minimum Overlap
2m (6ft) <  2.5m (8 ft) 1 m(3.3 ft)
>2.5m  (8ft) <   3.6m (12 ft) 1.25m (4 ft)
>3.6m (12 ft) <  5m (16ft) 1.5m (5ft)
>5m (16ft) <  6 (20ft) 1.8m (6ft)

Please remember this when selecting and using an extension ladder in order to maintain its integrity.

Ladder Classes

Ladder classes indicate the size of the load that can be placed onto a ladder. This includes the weight of the person, their clothes, tools and material that will be on the ladder. At no point should the duty rating be exceeded. Under the CSA Standard, Grade 3 is the lowest grade and the maximum weight is 200 lbs, Grade 2 is 225lbs, and Grade 1 is the highest grade and is 250 lbs.

Aluminum vs. Fibreglass

Aluminum ladders have their advantages: they are light weight and are resistant to moisture and corrosion. The problem with aluminum is that conduct heat and electricity. When those conditions exist, you need to select a fibreglass ladder.

Fibreglass, besides the heat and electricity resistance, also has resistance to moisture and corrosion. The downside to fibreglass is that it is heavy. So you may need to weigh your needs and conditions at the job site to determine which material you can use for your ladder


These are some of the things that you need to keep in mind when you purchase a ladder for work or even home use. I was speaking to a client once and he was telling me that he had purchased the wrong grade ladder (too light) and when he switched, he was impressed by how sturdier the heavier grade was. Please carefully analyse the job and the site and choose what you need. Better to save a life than a dime.


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