Ladders are an essential part of do-it-yourself projects, particularly for helping you reach areas you otherwise couldn't. However, ladders are also a cause of many accidents. Using a ladder properly, using a safe ladder placement ratio and following adequate precautions can minimize the risks when using a ladder.

Caucasian man painting edge of roof
credit: Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/GettyImages
Proper Angle for a Ladder

Different Types Of Ladders

There are many different types of ladders, each better suited for a different type of job. These include single pole ladders, extension ladder, which have a lengthening feature, platform ladders, A-frame ladders and rolling ladders.

The Proper Ladder Angle

Any ladder that does not support itself – predominantly single pole and extension ladders – needs the correct ladder angle to keep it both sturdy and safe. The general rule of thumb to follow is maintaining an ideal ladder placement ratio of 75 degrees. This means the base of the ladder needs to be about one quarter of the ladder's length.

Following this 4-to-1 ladder rule, if a ladder is 20 feet off the ground, the base needs to be 5 feet from the wall. A quick way to check this is to stand with your feet touching the ladder's base. If you hold one arm forward, you should be able to touch the ladder's rungs at shoulder height. However, to get the angle as safe as possible, it's far more precise to measure the height and depth.

If a ladder is at a steeper angle, then it's liable to tip over backward. If the ladder is at a wider angle, the base is prone to slipping backward. An extremely tight angle on a ladder can put too much pressure on the ladder's sides, and they can break.

Ladder and Extension Ladder Safety Tips

Ladder and extension ladder safety should be at the forefront of your mind when using any type of ladder.

Always have your ladder's footing level. If the ground isn't level, you can use special ladder levelers to even out the feet. You want your ladders feet to be grippy enough to hold the ladder in place adequately.

If at all possible, it's a great idea to have someone help you when using a ladder. They can hold the base in place and keep an eye out for any potential dangers.

You want to always have three points of contact with the ladder – typically, a hand and two feet. Don't carry your tools in your hands. Instead, use a tool-belt to keep your hands free.

Always check around the top of the ladder for any potential problems. You don't want to set up a ladder directly underneath overhead wires, for example.

You need to make sure your ladder in long enough to extend past the point you're trying to reach. Under no circumstances do you want to extend your body over the end of a ladder. Similarly, you don't want to be leaning too far to either side of the ladder. If you're reaching over so fair that your waist is outside the ladder's parameters, you should come back down and reposition your ladder.

If you're doing extensive work on a ladder, it's a good idea to tie it at the top. Choose a strong point to secure the ladder and not something flimsy like a gutter.

Step Ladders

Although stepladders tend to be shorter than extension ladders, this doesn't mean you don't need to follow safety precautions with them.

Always make sure all four feet are on even, solid ground. Make sure any interlocking mechanisms have engaged. Maintain three points of contact with the ladder at all times and don't overreach. Always face the ladder.