Ladders may seem like the most basic, easy-to-use piece of equipment, but about 50 construction workers a year are killed in falls from ladders.

The main cause of falls from straight or extension ladders is movement of the base, usually because it was improperly set up or inadequately secured. On stepladders, the main cause is tipping sideways. Below are some photographs that show good, bad and very bad (ugly) examples of ladder use.

What’s wrong with this ladder?

Don’t make a step ladder into a straight ladder.

Keep the area around the base of a ladder uncluttered.


Ladders should be laid down for storage.


This job-made ladder is too short, the spaces between rungs are too wide and it’s missing supports between the rungs.


Do not lean off the side of a ladder while working.

The greatest risk with step ladders is tipping sideways.


This ladder is well constructed.

Ladder Safety

  • Is a ladder the best tool for the job? In many cases, a scissors or aerial lift is a safer option.
  • Employees using ladders must be trained by a competent person. Choose the right ladder for the job. Inspect ladders before use.
  • Do not paint wooden ladders.
  • Keep ladders at least ten feet away from power lines.
  • If used where foot traffic is likely, block off the area.
  • Always face the ladder. • Wear slip-resistant shoes.
  • Always maintain three-point contact (i.e., one hand, two feet or two hands, one foot)
  • Do not work from the top or top step of a stepladder or from any of the top three rungs of straight or extension ladder.
  • Stand in the center to avoid tipping.
  • Do not carry objects when moving up or down.
  • Never move a ladder with someone on it.
  • Lower an extension ladder before moving it.
  • Never leave unsecured ladder unattended.
  • Always secure a ladder by tying it down or having someone hold it.
  • Always set ladders on firm, level ground; use levelers on uneven ground.
  • Keep areas around ladders clear.
  • Do not tie ladders together unless made for that purpose.
  • If possible, use a personal fall protection system attached to a secure point when working from a ladder.

Good, Bad and Ugly

The LHSFNA helped develop a six-part series of ladder safety toolbox talks that is available online. Fall protection information is also online.

Another useful resource is Don’t Fall for It, an 11-minute training DVD produced by the CPWR – the Center for Construction Research and Training with help from the New Jersey Laborers.

Steve Clark