One of the handiest tools to have around the house is a stepladder, yet it is also one of the most likely to be used improperly. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 532,000 injuries relating to ladder use were treated in 2007. So learning basic safety rules for stepladders and extension ladders is crucial. Knowing how to hold a ladder properly while you climb and having a partner hold the ladder while you use it are easy ways to prevent falls.

Choose the Proper Ladder for the Job

Selecting a ladder best suited to the job at hand is very important. You can easily lose your balance and fall from the top-most step of a ladder. So always choose a ladder that allows you to reach your workspace while standing one or two steps from the top for maximum stability and balance. Folding stepladders are good for work inside the home, plus their A-frame construction adds extra stability. Extension ladders are best for work outside the home at great height. Inspecting the ladder before use every time is important, checking for bends, breaks or other evidence of damage. Ensuring that the ladder can handle the amount of weight you will place upon it is also crucial. No matter which kind of ladder is used, it is always safer to have a partner on hand to hold the ladder and keep it steady.

Always Have a Partner Hold the Ladder

Have your partner use both hands and feet to keep your ladder steady while it is used. Feet should be placed at the base of each ladder leg to prevent sliding, and both hands should grasp either side of the ladder at a 90-degree angle. This will give the best stability for the ladder as it is climbed.

When climbing a ladder, grasp the ladder firmly with your hands before placing your feet upon a rung. Once you are secure and balanced, let go of one hand and grasp the next rung. When that hand is secure, follow with the other hand. Once both hands are secure, then move your feet to the next rung one at a time. Never allow your hands and feet to move at the same time.

Always make sure your partner watches as you work. A distracted partner is the surest way to bring down a ladder, and so focus should be maintained at all times. Regardless of what kind of ladder is used—wood, metal, composite—work gloves are an important way for the helper to maintain control and prevent injuries.

Place the Ladder at the Proper Angle

Holding a ladder properly and safely can be best accomplished when the ladder is set at the proper angle. When using a folding stepladder, always make sure the legs are fully extended and the braces are locked. This will prevent the ladder from folding beneath your weight while using it. To get the proper angle for using extension ladders, simply divide the height of the ladder by four; this will give you the distance the base of the ladder should be from the structure against which the ladder leans. For example, if the ladder is 12 feet tall, the base of the ladder should be 3 feet from the structure being climbed. This is called The Rule of Four.