Choosing the Right Ladder for the Job – Height, Material, Style and Duty Rating

Many people don’t realize that ladders aren’t one-size-fits-all. You wouldn’t, for example, use the same ladder at a commercial construction site that you would use to screw in a lightbulb in your kitchen. Ladders come in a variety of different materials, styles, sizes, and duty ratings, and each one is intended for a very specific usage.

When choosing a ladder, some things you should ask yourself are:

  • Am I working indoors or outdoors?
  • How high do I need to go?
  • Will I be carrying anything heavy up and down the ladder?
  • Will I be working near electricity?
  • What project(s) do I need to complete?

Using the answers to those questions, you can determine the following:

What style ladder should I use?

Step ladder: A short folding ladder with a platform, this type of ladder is often used inside the house for simple jobs, such as decorating the top of the Christmas tree or painting hard-to-reach trim.

Extension ladder: This type of ladder extends through sliding sections and can reach heights up to 40’ tall. It is often used for outdoor jobs, such as working on a roof or trimming tall trees.

Dual purpose ladder: As the name suggests, a dual purpose can act as both a step and an extension ladder. This is an excellent ladder to have when you will be working on many different types of jobs.

Platform ladder: This portable ladder has a platform at the highest intended standing level, surrounded by a railing. Unlike a regular ladder, when standing on a platform, you are free to face in any direction.

How tall should my ladder be?

One of the main causes of ladder-related injury is standing too high up on the rungs or reaching too far – both of which can be avoided by choosing the proper height ladder. When determining which ladder to use, keep these rules in mind:

  • The highest safe standing level is 4 rungs from the top of an extension ladder, or 2 rungs on a step ladder
  • To allow for proper setup, an extension ladder should be 7-10 feet taller than the highest point of contact
  • Maximum safe reaching distance is 4 feet above the top of a ladder

What material should ladder should I buy?

Ladders are available in several materials. Each has strong points and detriments.

  • Wood – an economical choice, any by far the most popular amongst home owners, but not especially durable or long-lasting.
  • Aluminum – long-lasting and light weight, but can’t be used near electric and typically not used on commercial job sites because of that
  • Fiberglass – safe to use near electricity and are by far the most durable, but highly expensive and slightly heavier than aluminum

What duty rating do I need?

One of the most important factors in ladder safety, but often overlooked, is duty rating. Every ladder comes with a duty rating, or maximum safe load capacity, ranging from 200lbs at the low end to 375 at the high end. It’s important to know that the maximum weight limit includes you AND anything you might be carrying. This means that if you’re hauling a 30-lb toolbox up the ladder with you, you need to take that into account.

There are many potential dangers when working on a ladder, but choosing the right one helps ensure that your job will be completed safely.