Choosing the right ladder for the job | Pro Construction Guide
Choose best ladders for the job

Choosing the right ladder for the job

Choosing the right ladder

When deciding between ladders, consider these three factors: material, duty rating and height.

Most ladders are available in either aluminum or fiberglass. Aluminum ladders are lighter than fiberglass. For example, a 10-foot aluminum ladder weighs 30 pounds, compared to 34 pounds for the same height in fiberglass.

The primary disadvantage of aluminum ladders is that they can’t be used near electrical wires. (For that, use a fiberglass ladder.) Since their introduction in the early 1960s, fiberglass ladders have proven themselves durable workhorses for all types of contractors. Less expensive and lighter than wooden ladders, they are available in a full range of sizes.

When planning for ladder load, always consider both your weight and the items being carried up the ladder. For example, a bundle of shingles typically weighs 70 pounds, while a tool box with tools can weigh 35 pounds. (See chart for ladder load capacities).

Ladder types and sizes

Ladder companies produce charts that specify the maximum working range of each product. For a standard 16-foot stepladder, the highest approximate standing level is 13 feet 4 inches, which provides a reach of approximately 20 feet. By comparison, its 16-foot extension ladder has a working range to the top support of 7½ to 12½ feet. (Its maximum accessible roof range is 4½ to 9½ feet.)

When on a ladder, don’t “overreach.” This can result in loss of balance. Ladder falls accounted for 129 worker deaths in 2006, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For a stepladder, the highest standing level is two steps down from the top step. With an extension ladder, it’s four rungs down from the top rung. Extension ladders should always extend 3 feet past the roofline or working surface.

Always maintain a 75½-degree angle to the ground. To achieve this, the Construction Roundtable of OSHA’s Alliance Program recommends that the “base of the ladder be 1 foot away from the building for every 4 feet of ladder length to the support point.”

Duty ratings for ladders

Ladder Duty Ratings Ladders are classified by their load capacity, ranging from light-duty household to super-heavy-duty.

Classification Type Capacity
Light-duty household 3 200 pounds
Medium-duty commercial 2 225 pounds
Heavy-duty industrial 1 250 pounds
Extra-heavy-duty 1-A 300 pounds
Super-heavy-duty 1-AA 375 pounds

Investing in scaffolding

Selection guide to ladder types and scaffolding

Scaffold systems have platform load capacities ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds (spread evenly) and can be configured for heights as high as 20 feet.

OSHA mandates scaffolds for situations where ladders cannot be used safely. Scaffolds provide a stable work platform on which to stand and place materials and supplies, and are especially well-suited for projects such as bricklaying, tuck pointing and drywalling.

Scaffold systems platform load capacities ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds (spread evenly) and can be configured for heights as high as 20 feet. (Note that OSHA requires any scaffold over 10 feet to have a safety railing.)

Some scaffold platforms are designed for specific applications such as A-1 Plank and Scaffold Manufacturing’s AP Drywall Scaffold, which is 12 feet high, 29 inches wide and 6 feet long. It rides on 5-inch heavy-duty casters for easy maneuverability and has a platform that can be adjusted from 1 to 12 feet high.

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