Electricians often must work above floor or ground level and in difficult-to-reach locations. In these cases, a ladder may be the only means of access.

Step ladders range in size from 4 to 16 feet; double-step ladders can be climbed from both sides. Single-section ladders come in lengths ranging from 8 to 20 feet, and extension ladders are available in 12- to 60-foot lengths.

Most electrical contracting firms own a selection of the most-needed ladder types and sizes, but step and extension ladders are readily available at general and equipment rental centers.

Basic step and extension ladders continue to evolve and are available in many sizes and configurations, some with features designed to accommodate tools and materials as well as the climber. Improvements make them safer, easier to handle and set up, and more versatile. Various accessories increase versatility.

Not only have the number of models increased and incorporated new designs and features, but materials from which ladders are constructed have changed.

Representatives of three ladder manufacturers (listed alphabetically) discuss features of the current ladder products.

Little Giant ladder systems
Most ladders are based on fundamental designs that haven’t significantly changed, said H. Arthur Wing, president of Little Giant (www.littlegiantladders.com). The focus of some big manufacturers, he added, has been on commoditization—cutting costs and lowering prices—while there are others who target innovation.

Improvements he cited on Little Giant ladders include new alloys and fiberglass resin compounds to decrease weight without affecting strength, specialized rail “truss” technology that decreases extension ladder weight as much as 25 percent without affecting strength, leveling outriggers for extension ladders that increase side-tip stability up to 500 percent, and an integrated standing platform/spreader system with handrail that allows users to stand comfortably on the top recommended step of the new Select Step adaptive stepladder.

“Nonconductive fiberglass ladders are a must for electricians,” Wing said. “Most electricians use traditional Type IAA or Type IA fiberglass stepladders and extension ladders. In stepladders, the 6- and 8-foot fiberglass models are the most popular. For extension ladders, 28- and 24-foot fiberglass models are used most."

Cable and wire spool bars, conduit clamps, tool or utility trays, and leg-leveling devices are the most popular accessories electricians order.

Wing cited Little Giant’s patented SumoStance extension ladder leveling outrigger system that more than triples the width of the ladder’s base and includes 9-inch vertical leveling adjustment on each leg. MicroBurst stepladders with StableLock spreader design locks securely in place to reduce unwanted shifting or walking. The spreader system is the strongest component of the ladder, constructed of high-strength steel alloy and locks in place to prevent accidental collapse, Wing said.

Ladder Safety
Both federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state regulations apply to the use of ladders. When standards differ, the stricter one applies.
Ladder safety begins with using a ladder capable of supporting the weight that will be placed on it. Overloading is frequently the cause of falls, which, along with accidental ladder contact with live power cable or equipment, are the most obvious dangers.

However, working with ladders involves many other risks. A ladder must be securely positioned before use, and personnel must exercise the appropriate precautions that apply to the type of work they are doing. Workers who routinely climb ladders often become careless and take risks they know they should not.

The following are general safety rules for ladder use:

• Always use fiberglass ladders when working near electrical lines or equipment.
• Check overhead clearance when moving or raising any ladder to ensure it does not come in contact with live electrical cable.
• Never set up a ladder on a slick surface.
• Position ladders on firm, level surfaces, and properly place ladder shoes.
• Ensure both side rails are supported.
• Whenever possible, stake and/or tie down the base and top of an extension ladder to prevent slipping.
• Engage both locks on extension ladders.
• Keep ladder rungs clean, and wear shoes with no-slip soles.
• Never climb to the top rung or step of a ladder.
• Replace broken ladders before use (availability of parts is an important consideration).

Remember maximum weight class ratings are for total weight—the person using the ladder, plus the weight of tools, equipment and materials. Ladder manufacturers, industry associations, and OSHA and other government agencies provide free information about the safe use of ladders. Refer to those materials for safety training.

Note: This safety information is general and is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a comprehensive guide of safety requirements and safety procedures that apply to ladders. —J.G.

Louisville Ladder
Louisville Ladder (www.louisvilleladder.com) products include step-, extension, articulating multipurpose, rolling-warehouse ladders, and various ladder accessories.

Fiberglass stepladders and fiberglass extension ladders with new Pro-Top feature or cable hooks are most popular with electricians, said Santiago Veytia, marketing manager.

The multifunction Pro-Top for Class 1A extension ladders “includes a nonconductive work tray of molded copolymer with practical handyman tool slots to hold pliers and screwdrivers,” Veytia said. “The tray includes a large hole which can hold a cordless drill chuck, hammer or other similar-size tools. The corner-grip V design permits the ladder to be placed on corners, poles and trees. Wide design and rubber tread provides greater stability and more contact area on flat surfaces than conventional ladders. The slots… are strategically placed so they can also be used to lash the ladder to objects at the top.”
Accessories include adjustable and fixed stabilizers, optional stepladder shoes, pole grip and cable hook, combination spur and shoe, pulley sheave assembly, ladder jacks, and leg levelers.

Werner Co.
Chris Filardi, senior vice president of marketing, said Werner (www.wernerladder.com) offers ladders designed for specific industries, such as electricians, to make jobs easier, faster and less fatiguing, and improve safety. The Electrician’s Jobstation is a comprehensive work center for commercial, residential and industrial electricians. Werner’s product line includes a variety of fiberglass step-, platform, and extension ladders designed for special duty and extra heavy-duty professional use.

Filardi cited Werner features that include the HolsterTop, which has customized slots and bins to hold tools; a built-in scale for measuring and cutting conduit; and a bungee system to hang heavy tools. An integrated conduit holder, hacksaw hook and safety shield on the rails make conduit cutting simple and secure. Wire spool holder brackets organize wire spools and facilitate wire pulling.

Extension ladder covers prevent damage to support surfaces. QuickClick stabilizers provide a 44-inch standoff. Stabilizers with built-in surface protectors adjust to 49, 57 or 65 inches with a 12-inch standoff distance. The LadderCinch tie-down strap has an adjustable pole lash assembly and is available with or without angle brackets. Cable hook assemblies also are available.

“We investigate the needs of the largest segments of ladder users, and create ladders based on their working habits and unmet needs, improving safety and enhancing productivity in the process,” Filardi said.

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at up-front@cox.net.