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All about Ladders

Key Hand Tools: Chapter 7

Intro to Ladders

In this module, you will learn:

- What a ladder is,

- How to use a ladder, and

- What an A frame ladder is Skip to quiz!


A ladder is a device used to reach a higher location. Ladders can be helpful in reaching rooftops, lights in ceilings, or other hard to reach locations. Ladders are made of two vertical metal rods with horizontal rods running between the vertical rods.

The horizontal rods are where you will grip or stand on the ladder. The vertical rods support the horizontal rods.

Ladders come in a variety of heights. Always use the shortest ladder that you need for the job.

Using a longer ladder can increase your chance of falling.

Ladders can be made of several materials, including:

  • Wood,

  • Fiberglass, and

  • Aluminum

Wood and fiberglass ladders can be used around electrical equipment. Aluminum ladders cannot be used around electricity since they can conduct electricity and kill you.

Ladders are rated to handle up to a specific weight. For example, a ladder may be rated to hold 250lbs. You can find the weight rating on a sticker that is attached to the ladder. Be sure to you are under the weight limit, even with tools. Exceeding the weight limit can break the ladder.

Types of Ladders

There are two common types of ladders:

  • A frame ladders, and

  • Extension ladders

The “A” Frame Ladder

The “A” frame ladder, sometimes called a stepladder, gets its name because the ladder looks like an “A” when it is set up. The ladder legs can be extended until the ladder resembles a triangle. A frame ladders are great for locations that are just out of reach, like a ceiling.

The “A” frame ladder has four parts:

  • Support legs,

  • Spreader bars,

  • Steps, and

  • The tray

The picture to the right labels each part of an A frame ladder.

The support legs of the ladder keep the ladder stable while you are climbing on it. The support legs also support the horizontal steps where you will stand or grip.

The spreader bars keep the ladder locked out when you are standing on it. The steps are what you will stand on or hold onto while using the ladder.

At the top of an A frame ladder, you will find a horizontal tray. This tray is generally used when you are painting. The tray is good for placing lightweight items while you are on the ladder.

When an A frame ladder is not in use, the support legs are closed. You can see an example in the image to the right. To use an A frame ladder, start by pulling apart the support legs. As you pull the support legs, the spreader bars will slowly expand.

Once the support legs are fully extended, press down on the spreader bars to make sure they are locked out. Be sure to place the ladder on a level and stable surface. Placing the ladder on a slanted or unstable surface can cause the ladder to fall.

Next, it is time to get on the ladder. One side of the support legs will have steps, and the other will only have bracing. Be sure to only stand on the steps. The bracing is not designed to carry your weight.

While keeping at least three points of contact with the ladder, climb up the ladder to the required height. Never stand on the very top of the ladder or the highest step. The ladder becomes unstable as you get higher.

Once you finish the task, slowly climb down the ladder. Push the spreader bars up so they are no longer locked out. Push the support legs together and store the ladder.

In this module, you learned what a ladder is. You also learned about the most common type of ladder, the A frame ladder. Recall that A frame ladders are great for reaching ceilings or spots just out of reach.


Extension Ladders

In this module, you will learn:

- How to use an extension ladder,

- Three points of contact, and

- Ladder safety Skip to quiz!

The Extension Ladder

An extension ladder, sometimes called a straight ladder, is another type of common ladder. Extension ladders are great for reaching higher areas like rooftops.

Extension ladders do not have two support legs like an A frame ladder. Extension ladders are angled onto the point you want to climb to. Gravity keeps the ladder in place by pressing the extension ladder into the lip you are climbing to.

An extension ladder has two sliding segments. One sliding segment is fixed. The other can be used to extend the reach of the ladder. The sliding segment of the ladder is why the ladder is called an extension ladder.

Since an extension ladder relies on gravity to keep the ladder against the roof, the angle of the ladder is important. The ladder should be at a 75-degree angle. If the ladder is at too shallow of an angle, the ladder may fall over when you climb it.

The end of the extension ladder must be at least 3 feet over the lip you are connecting the ladder to. Anything less than 3 feet is dangerous, and can result in injury.

Hanging from the adjustable segment of the ladder is a rope. To extend the ladder, pull down on the rope.

Once the ladder is in the correct position, you must lock the rung locks. Rung locks are braces that you will find near the bottom of the ladder. The braces hook onto a rung. The braces prevent the extended segment from sliding back down.

To use an extension ladder, start by observing the surrounding area. Make sure that the area has low traffic. You do not want someone accidentally running into the ladder. Never set up a ladder near a door. If the door opens, it can knock down the ladder while you are on it.

Check the ground where you will place the ladder. The ground should be level, dry, and not slippery. If possible, have another person hold the base of the extension ladder while you climb it.

If you will be going up and down the ladder often, tie down the top of the ladder. Tying the ladder prevents the ladder from falling in an accident. Never use extension ladders in strong winds.

Ladder Safety

Each year, over 160,000 people are taken to an emergency room due to ladder injuries. Thousands of people die each year. When using any type of ladder, safety is critical.

When you are on a ladder, you must have three points of contact. Three points of contact means that three limbs are holding onto the ladder at all times. For example, two feet and a hand would be three points of contact. Never let go of the ladder with both hands or both feet.

When using a ladder, it is also important to keep in mind your center of balance. Keeping three points of contact, but shifting most of your weight to the right side of the ladder, can make it fall. When on a ladder, always keep your weight directly down the center.

When you use a ladder, you must place the ladder on level, dry, and non-slippery ground. Placing a ladder on slanted, uneven, or slippery surfaces can cause the ladder to fall while you are on it. Ouch! Never place an object under a ladder to reach a higher area. This is very unstable.

Before going on a ladder, press firmly on it and step on the first step to make sure it is secure. Do not use the ladder if it is angled or unstable. Only one person should be on a ladder at any time.

Before using a ladder, you must inspect it for damage. In the field, ladders can be damaged without you knowing it. Climbing a damaged ladder can cause it to break while you are 20ft in the air.

To inspect a ladder, start by checking each rung to confirm it is tight and secure. Check the ladder to make sure it is free of oil, grease, or any slippery materials. Check the base of the ladder to make sure the feet are not damaged and will have good grip on the ground.

Inspect all parts of the ladder for dents, damage, and breaks. Be sure to check:

  • The rungs,

  • The spreader bars,

  • The side rails, and

  • The base.

In this module, you learned about the extension ladder. Extension ladders are great for reaching high up places like rooftops.

Ladder accidents are the number one cause of injuries on a job site. Always inspect the ladder, have three points of contact, and place the ladder on a secure and level surface.


Question #1: It is okay to stand on the bracing of an A frame ladder

  1. True

  2. False

Scroll down for the answer...

Answer: False

The bracing on a ladder is not designed to support your weight. Only stand or grip the steps of a ladder.

Question #2: Extension ladders are great for:

  1. Reaching a light bulb.

  2. Getting access to high areas, like rooftops.

  3. Making you feel cool.

  4. Increasing safety.

Scroll down for the answer...

Answer: Getting access to high areas, like rooftops.

Extension ladders are great for reaching high areas. They allow you to extend a segment to safely reach rooftops.

Question #3: Extension ladders can be placed on uneven surfaces?

  1. True

  2. False

Scroll down for the answer...

Answer: False

Just like A frame ladders, extension ladders must be placed on dry, level, and non-slippery surfaces.

Question #4: What must you do before using a ladder?

  1. Inspect the rungs

  2. Place the ladder on level ground

  3. Test the ladder for stability

  4. All of the above

Scroll down for the answer...

Answer: All of the above

Before using a ladder, you must inspect the ladder, place the ladder on level ground, and test the ladder for stability.

Question #5: What is three points of contact?

  1. Three of the ladder legs must be touching a surface

  2. Three people are holding the ladder at a time

  3. Three limbs are always touching the ladder

  4. Three people can safely climb the ladder at a time

Scroll down for the answer...

Answer: Three limbs are always touching the ladder

Three points of contact states that three limbs must be holding onto the ladder at all times.


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