Stepladder Safety

Stepladder Safety

Stepladders are used on almost every construction site that I have been on. The only time they haven’t been used is when the ceiling was too high. Whether used for painting, installing pipe or lights, or hanging drywall, there are few trades that do not use these devices. Companies need to promote stepladder safety as part of their regular work plans. This article is designed to be a starting point for designing such a program.

Carrying a Stepladder

I have heard of two ways to carry a stepladder. One is the carry the ladder vertically. This method involves carrying the ladder over a shoulder, with one hand gripping a rung, the pail tray facing upward. This is a good method if you are in any area with a lot of obstacles. For example, if you need to do some work in a store, carrying the ladder in the manner means you can maneuver around the shelves a lot easier. You need to be aware however of any overhead obstacles when carrying in this method. Striking a light or sprinkler head can cause property damage.

Another method is to carry low by horizontally. This method is done by standing in the centre of the ladder (balance point)  and carrying by the thick side rail, using two hands  with heavier ladders. This is a good method to use since it doesn’t put a great deal of strain on the shoulder from the ladder resting on it and you can avoid hitting anything overhead. It does make it harder to maneuver it tight spaces though.

Whichever carrying method is used is going to depend on the area that you have to work in. It is a good idea to look at the job you are doing, the height of the ceiling and  any obstacles in the way. Height and weight of the ladder will also play a role. Stepladders vary in height from four to sixteen feet. It may take two people to carry a ladder safely if the area is full of obstacles.

Setting up a Stepladder

Unlike extension ladders, stepladders are relatively easy to set up. Stepladders need to be set up on firm level ground because placing the ladder on slippery, uneven or unstable ground will cause it to fall. The spreader bars have to be extended and locked into place and all four feet need to be. I’ve had some of the workers under my watch who tried to set up their ladders by leaning them against a wall. When doing this the feet of the stepladder are not flat, this causes the ladder to slide backward or kick-out. Position the ladder underneath the object or item you are working on so you don’t need to reach.

Working from the Stepladder

After the stepladder has been setup, climb the ladder from the front side. Most stepladders are not designed to have two people climb the at once, although this type of stepladder is available. Maintain three points of contact while climbing and working from the ladder and keep your body centred between the side rails. Always face the ladder when climbing and working from it.


Never stand on top of the ladder. There are two reasons for this: one is that the pail shelf is not strong enough to support the weight of a person. The second is that you will not be properly balanced or have three points of contact. If your ladder is not high enough, you will need to get a higher ladder. Always double check the height of the ceiling you are working from before you select a ladder.

Never overreach from the ladder when working. Overreaching will cause the worker to lose their balance and fall. Move the ladder closer to what you need to reach, and do this by climbing down off the ladder and moving the ladder from the ground. Never “walk” the ladder while on it. If you need to go from one ladder to another, climb off the ladder you’re on first, never climb from one ladder to another.


Being safe when working from any height is important. A fall one as low as a foot can cause injury. Stepladder safety rules need to be enforced by supervisors. Because of their frequent use, it would be easy for workers to become complacent when using them. Training for ladder use, as separate course from fall protection, may be one option to show that stepladders need to be respected at any height.

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