Stanford University

Ladder Safety

All personnel using ladders must follow safe work practices and comply with Cal/OSHA regulations [Title 8, California Code of Regulations, Sections 3277-3280]. Safe practices include:

Ladder selection

  • Select the appropriate size ladder for every task.
    • For stepladders: As a general rule, a user can safely reach no higher than three to four feet above the ladder top. Stepladders longer than 20 feet shall not be used.
    • For single/extension ladders: As a general rule, the highest standing level should be four rungs down from the top. Single ladders should be no longer than 30 feet, and extension ladders should be no longer than 60 feet.
  • The ANSI Duty Rating (labeled on the ladder) indicates the maximum safe load capacity of the ladder (including person and tools).
  • Fiberglass is electrically non-conductive, and is preferred for most uses.
  • Aluminum is strong and lightweight, but cannot be used near electricity.
  • Wood is electrically non-conductive when dry, but can be more sensitive to extreme weather (e.g. heat or moisture).

Note that if elevated work involves moderate to heavy pushing, pulling, or lifting, use of an aerial device (e.g. scissor-lift or boom-lift) is recommended. Where a ladder must be used for such tasks, fall protection may be necessary. Contact EH&S for detailed requirements.


Prior to each use, inspect the ladder for the following conditions:

  • Free of cracks, splits, corrosion, and protruding nails, screws, and splinters
  • Steps/rungs free of oil or grease
  • Steps/rungs firmly attached to side rails
  • Safety feet/base and other hardware are in good condition
  • Movable parts should operate smoothly, without binding or excessive play
  • Ropes should be in good condition (for extension ladders)

If a ladder is found defective, immediately remove it from service for repair or destruction and mark it “Danger, Do Not Use.” Temporary fixes shall not be made.


Store ladders in an area sheltered from direct sunlight and rain. Ladders should be kept in the horizontal position, with supports to prevent sagging.

Safe ladder use


  • Set up ladders away from where they can be accidentally struck or displaced.
    • If it is necessary to work in occupied work areas, walkways, or roadways, barricade off a highly visible safety zone.
    • Ladders shall not be placed in front of doors, unless the door is locked or a guard is posted.
  • Never use metal ladders around exposed electrical equipment and wiring, and keep ladders and tools at least ten feet away from overhead lines at all times. If safe clearance is a concern, contact the Facilities-Utilities Department for assistance.
  • Keep access to and from ladders clear of mud, materials, or debris.


  • Set up ladders on a flat surface. Large flat, wooden boards braced under the ladder can level a ladder on uneven ground and provide better footing on soft ground.
  • Ladders shall not be set on boxes, barrels, or other unstable bases to gain height.
  • Always open stepladders fully and ensure that spreader bars are locked.
  • For single/extension ladders: For proper ladder angle, set ladder base one foot away from the wall for every four feet of ladder length.
  • When accessing a roof or other elevated location, the ladder shall extend three feet above the roof or elevated location.
  • Secure the ladder at the top to prevent it from slipping sideways or at its base to prevent it from slipping outwards.
    • When it is not possible to tie the ladder at the top or secure it at its base, have a person brace the ladder at ground level. This method is most suitable for ladders up to 16 feet long.


  • Ensure that shoes are free of mud, grease, or other substances that could cause a slip or fall.
  • Face the ladder and use both hands. Maintain three points of contact at all times.
  • Do not hand-carry tools or materials. Carry items on a tool belt or raise or lower items by hand lines or other means.
  • Never climb the bracing on the back of stepladders.

General use

  • Do not stand or work on the top three rungs of a single/extension ladder. For stepladders, do not stand or work on the topcap or first step.
  • Stay centered and do not let your belt buckle go past either side rail.
  • When working, keep at least three points of body contact with ladder (i.e. two feet plus one hand or hips or chest).
  • Only one person should be on a ladder at a time.
  • Never adjust or move a ladder while on it.
  • Avoid working on ladders in high winds.

For any questions, contact EH&S at (650) 723-0448.

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