7 Unsafe Behaviors When Using Ladders on the Job

Ladders are a common tool to complete a wide array of job tasks on the job. Ladders allow workers to access higher work areas in an efficient manner. With this increase in convenience and efficiency brings hazards that employees must consider.

unsafe behaviors using ladders

This post provides a list of seven common unsafe behaviors that must be avoided to reduce the risk of injury occurring. This post does not attempt to identify all unsafe behaviors or safety best practices when using ladders.

Ladder Injury Statistics in the Workplace

Unfortunately, there are many employees injured or killed on the job when using ladders. Falls from heights are the most obvious type of injury that occurs when using ladders.

The CDC reports that each year in the U.S. more than 310 construction workers are killed and more than 10,350 are seriously injured by falls from heights.

There are limited statistics published in recent years for ladder-related injuries and fatalities across all injuries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that between 2011 and 2016 there were 836 fatalities in the workplace involving ladders.

It is vital to take ladder safety seriously on the job to not become the next victim.

Below are seven common unsafe behaviors including choosing the wrong type of ladder, using a defective ladder, setting up the ladder improperly, not inspecting the work area, leaning when using a ladder, not using three points of contact, and using the top step of the ladder.

These behaviors can contribute to injuries occurring on the job.

Unsafe Behavior #1: Choosing the Wrong Type of Ladder

It is vital to use the right tools and equipment when completing any work tasks. Choosing the right ladder for the job is no different. There are various types of ladders and different duty ratings for commercial-grade ladders.

wrong type of ladder

It is vital to choose a ladder that provides safe access to the work area that is being reached. This includes a ladder with enough height, weight rating, and proper base for the work environment.

It is also important to consider the ladder’s material when working in an environment that presents electrical hazards. A fiberglass ladder is a safer choice when completing work tasks where electrical hazards are a concern.

Click here to view the different weight ratings (duty ratings) of ladders.

Unsafe Behavior #2: Using a Defective Ladder

Like any tool, ladders can wear out or become damaged over time. A damaged or defective one should never be used. Also, it is vital that safety labels remain intact and legible on ladders so hazards and relevant information regarding the ladder are communicated to the employees prior to use.

Ladders should be inspected prior to the work task commencing. Any ladder deemed unsafe to use needs to be tagged out of service until it is properly repaired by the manufacturer. If the ladder cannot be properly repaired, it needs to be completely removed from service.

Unsafe Behavior #3: Setting Up the Ladder Improperly

Employees need to take the time to step up the ladder according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Review all safety materials prior to using the ladder.

setting up ladders improperly

It is vital to completely open a collapsible ladder prior to climbing it. The ladder needs to be fully locked into place to ensure stability. If the ladder cannot be fully opened to access the work area, an extension ladder probably needs to be used.

Extension ladders must be placed at the right angle to ensure they are safe to climb. Too large of an angle can lead to the ladder sliding out of place. Too small of an angle can lead to the ladder being unstable and unsafe to climb. Choosing the right size ladder is critical to ensuring the correct angle can be achieved.

Click here to check out NIOSH’s tool to ensure a safe angle is chosen when using a ladder.

Ensure the ground is solid and safe to place the ladder on prior to work commencing.

Unsafe Behavior #4: Not Inspecting the Work Area

The work area where the ladder will be used should be inspected prior to work commencing. There are many hazards that could be present that can contribute to injury. Some common hazards to be aware of include:

  • Electrical hazards such as live electrical lines or electrical systems.
  • Biological hazards such as animals or insects.
  • Unstable ground, which can lead to the ladder tipping over or becoming unstable.
  • Moving equipment or personnel that could strike the ladder, resulting in the employee on the ladder being knocked off.

Proper preplanning of work activities and inspecting the work area can identify hazards that can lead to injuries occurring when using a ladder. Safeguards should then be implemented to eliminate or mitigate these hazards.

Unsafe Behavior #5: Leaning on the Ladder

Leaning while using a ladder is a common unsafe behavior that can lead to the ladder tipping over or the employee falling from it. Employees will often choose to lean to access the area they are working at instead of getting down to move the ladder to the proper location.

leaning over ladders

Always keep the button on your pants in the middle of the ladder. If you are needing to lean over to access the work area, get down and reposition the ladder. If the work area is still difficult to access, use tools with extended handles to access the area. Use a scissor lift or aerial lift if a ladder is not the right tool for the job.

Unsafe Behavior #6: Not Using Three Points of Contact

Many ladder injuries occur when employees are climbing up or down the ladder. These incidents can be mitigated by using three points of contact while climbing. Using three points of contact means that three of an employees’ limbs are in contact with the ladder at all times when climbing.

Never carry tools up and down the ladder. This action prevents the ability to use three points of contact. Even if climbing can be achieved while holding a tool, do not do this. Holding a tool impedes the ability to fully grab the ladder as it is being climbed.

Unsafe Behavior #7: Using the Top Step

The top step is not made for employees to stand on for the majority of ladders produced. The top steps are commonly marked with warnings to not use them. Using the top step can lead to the ladder becoming unstable or the employee using it to lose their balance.

using top step of ladder

If the work area can not be accessed without using the top step, it is not the right ladder for the job. Use a taller ladder or a different piece of equipment that provides safe access to the work area.

Employees should also never use the back steps of a ladder unless it is otherwise approved to do so by the manufacturer.


Due to the widespread and common use of ladders, it can be easy to become complacent while using them. It is vital to avoid the unsafe behaviors mentioned above to prevent injuries on the job. Take all possible hazards into consideration when planning work activities that involve ladders and follow safe work practices to mitigate these hazards.

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