Electricians often must work above floor or ground level, and despite a wide selection of power lifting devices and equipment, ladders remain the only practical way to access many overhead work locations.

The humble ladder, once a portable set of wooden steps, has evolved to sophisticated adjustable models in numerous configurations with versions available that have been designed for specific trades, including electricians.

Not only have ladder designs multiplied to include convenience and safety features, materials from which they are constructed have changed, and many accessories are available to make the climber’s work easier and safer.

“While the functionality of ladders has not changed over the years, the methods of construction and the materials used now provide a wide range of ladders designed for a variety of uses,” said Chris Filardi, vice president of commercial marketing for the Werner Co. “They include products ranging from simple ladders to high-end ladders designed for specific tasks.”

An example of the continuing importance of ladders to electricians is the selection of two ladder products as Showstoppers at the 2006 National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) show in Boston.

Wooden ladders have not disappeared from job sites, but most ladders sold today are made of aluminum or fiberglass. Electricians prefer fiberglass, because it does not conduct electricity when clean and dry. Six- and 8-foot stepladders, including twin-step models, and 24- and 28-foot extension ladders are popular sellers for electrical and datacom work.

A duty-rating system provides a standard for classifying the strength and intended use of the ladder, and ANSI and OSHA have very strict testing to determine safety standards to protect ladder users. Professional electricians generally prefer heavy-duty-rated ladders over less expensive and less durable products intended for homeowner use.

While ladder manufacturers have developed many innovative features and accessories that apply to various trades, Werner’s 2006 NECA Showstopper, the Old Blue Series Electrician’s Jobstation, was designed specifically for electricians. Custom features of the IAA duty-rated (375-lb. load capacity) fiberglass ladder include a holster top with slots to hold most-used tools and adjacent groove to secure up to 1-inch pipe for quick measuring and marking, a bungee system to keep tools from falling, integrated conduit holder with safety shields to prevent accidental cutting of ladder rails, a hacksaw hook, and wire spool holder brackets.

Gregory Haaser, inventor of Flip-N-Haul, the other ladder Showstopper, is a working electrician who developed the product as a practical solution filling a need for himself and other electricians. The wheel-mounted device can be quickly moved to and around job sites carrying tools and supplies. In its ladder configuration, the truck’s carry plate becomes a tool shelf with integral slots to hold nut drivers and other tools cords and supplies.

“I’ve always needed a ladder on most jobs,” Haaser said. “With this in mind and the need to carry tools and items from the truck to the job, the idea for a ladder-hand truck combination was born.”

Little Giant Ladder Systems markets two key Type 1A 300-lb. rated fiberglass ladders for electricians, said Art Wing, president.

“The ultralight model is extremely versatile with the capability of being used in multiple positions and small storage size,” Wing said. “It can be used as an A-frame or extension ladder and is completely adjustable to work safely over uneven surfaces like staircases. Electricians like this ladder because it is easy to transport in almost any vehicle, yet it allows the maximum versatility their projects demand.”

The other tripod design model has eliminated the spreader bar between steps and back support, permitting the user to work over obstacles and on uneven surfaces. Its height is adjustable from 5 to 8 feet.

“Another popular ladder with electricians,” Wing said, “is the adjustable A-frame aluminum ladder that adjusts to heights of 21 feet, ideal for reaching overhead lights in theaters and meeting centers.”

Ken Zack, Louisville Ladder director of industrial sales, said one of the most significant changes in ladders is the addition of the IAA (375-lb. capacity) rating, allowing heavier workers or workers with heavy equipment loads to climb and work on the ladder safely.

Zack said types of ladders and features that are important to electricians include the following:

  • Fiberglass stepladders equipped with molded tops with tool slots to help keep tools close at hand
  • Fiberglass combination and extension and a stepladder equipped with a web pole grip to hold the top of ladder against poles, pipes or corners
  • Fiberglass twin-step ladders, which allows two electricians to work on a stepladder at the same time
  • Fiberglass extension ladder built with D-shaped rungs that provide greater standing area. Quick-latch rung locks provide an easy method of securing fly and base section when the ladder is extended.

“Useful accessories include a rigid pole grip covered with heavy rubber tread; web pole grip made of flexible, high-strength nylon webbing; a ladder lash made of Dacron webbing with forged steel snaps; and adjustment slide with clips,” Zack said.

Werner’s Filardi said, with so many styles to choose from, there is a right ladder for most every person or task at hand. “Stepladders and extension ladders are the mainstay of climbing equipment,” he said, “but now there are multi-ladders that function as both and provide the user with a single ladder that serves many purposes. Additionally, the gap between step stools and traditional stepladders has also been closed with heavy-duty utility step stools and project ladders that feature comfortable steps, tools trays and other amenities for everyday use.”

Wooden ladders, he added, are very heavy and can conduct electricity if wet or dirty. Aluminum is very lightweight, making it more suitable for do-it-yourself and light-pro use. Fiberglass, while heavier, offers many styles in Type IA and IAA duty ratings constructed for heavy-duty professional use.

Filardi said Werner introduced the first extension ladder with built-in leg levelers to help people safely climb on uneven ground.

“Simple to use, it provides instant added safety on steps, uneven elevations and even in soft ground,” he said. “The success of the aluminum model spurred high demand for a fiberglass version due to electrical concerns, and earlier this year, a fiberglass model was introduced.”

Ladder accessories frequently ordered by electricians, said Filardi, include cable hooks and V-rungs, followed by pole straps and pole lashes. EC

Griffin, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.