The Evolution of the Ladder

By Jeff Griffin | Sep 11, 2023
Louisville Ladder

The purpose of a ladder—to get a person above floor or ground level—hasn’t changed since the first crude one was assembled with side rails and steps. Ladders have, however, evolved into multiple types for a variety of applications.




The purpose of a ladder—to get a person above floor or ground level—hasn’t changed since the first crude one was assembled with side rails and steps. Ladders have, however, evolved into multiple types for a variety of applications.

Today’s ladders are even better designed and easier to use, with ­accessories to increase versatility. Perhaps the most important improvement has been in safety.

The American Ladder Institute (ALI) said of the state of the ladder industry, “Some might expect that because the industry is mature there is no innovation. However, ladders are engineered products. The manufacturers continue to develop new ladder designs that provide great utility to the users. Additionally, as new materials come to market, these are considered and incorporated into the ladder designs when it makes sense. For example, in recent years lighter weight materials have been introduced that make ladders easier to transport around the job site.”

Manufacturers are also developing ­multifunctional designs that allow more versatility in use, including the ability to be folded into configurations such as a stepladder, single leaning ladder or scaffold ladder. 

Ladder safety

In addition to these product developments, ladder safety messaging continues to evolve. It is based on selecting the correct ladder for the job and using it as instructed by the on-product labels. To that end, there have been multiple American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A14 Committee initiatives that reinforce proper selection, inspection, setup, use, transport and storage. Additionally, a thorough review of ladder labeling by a dedicated task force resulted in substantial changes to the ANSI A14 standards labeling sections, effective in 2018. 

Finally, safe ladder use can be achieved by incorporating ladder accessories or using innovative ladder designs with enhanced utility. One example is leveler accessories that facilitate ladder setup on stairways or sloped surfaces. Another is the development of specially designed stepladders that can be used in the traditional fashion on all four feet or as a leaning ladder.

The ladder industry has maintained a strong commitment to safety over the last 50 years. This began in the 1970s with the formation of several ASC A14 task forces to analyze human factors, testing and labeling concerns. The findings of those task forces were immediately incorporated into the safety standards. Recent ladder advancements are a result of incorporating new materials and enhancing utility by providing specially designed ladders, such as the leanable stepladders or telescoping aluminum single ladders that were added to ANSI A14.2 in 2017. 


There are many ladder accessories available, along with a dedicated safety standard (A14.8). Accessories can be top- or ­bottom-mounted and include levelers, ladder feet, stand-off stabilizers, hooks (cable, roof/ridge), pole chains, straps and more.

The work site is the first factor in choosing the appropriate ladder material and style. If the work is near a source of electricity or requires using electrical power tools, choose a nonconductive material such as fiberglass. Using a conductive material like aluminum can lead to electrical shock and trigger a fall or even cause the heart to stop, leading to serious injury. Furthermore, the environment can dictate whether a self-supporting stepladder or platform ladder is suitable, or if a ­nonself-supporting single or extension ladder is needed.

Ladders provide utility for working at elevation. There is a very robust safety factor built into ladders to ensure user safety when used as instructed through the on-product labels. For instance, standing higher than instructions and labeling permit can result in instability and a loss of balance. Similarly, failure to set and maintain all four feet of a stepladder on firm, level ground or setting an extension ladder at an improper angle or on an unstable surface can cause ladder instability with a slide out or tipping, respectively. Before you start your task, it is important to read the warnings and instructions provided on the ladder labels. For additional safety information, please visit www.american­

Since its founding in 1947, the ALI has been dedicated to promoting safe ladder use through the development and dissemination of appropriate standards and by educating the public on the proper selection, care and safe use of ladders. The ongoing development and revision of the various A14 standards and the commitment to National Ladder Safety Month each March go a long way in that regard. However, it is ultimately the attention to following ladder safety practices by employers and individual users that can make a real difference. ALI’s Ladder Safety Training website is www.laddersafety­

Information for this report was prepared by Mike Van Bree, ALI vice president and director of product safety and engineering at Louisville Ladder, Louisville, Ky. 

Ladder innovations

Casey Fuller, national sales manager at ­Louisville Ladder, said ladders produced today have leaning capabilities and lightweight features. They are better than earlier models in terms of ease of use, weight and safety with the ability to lean the ladder.

“We make ladders that are safe for electricians’ use. We currently don’t make ladders specifically for electricians,” Fuller said. “We have a virtual training system called CLIMB Academy. Our CLIMB Academy Safety Training System teaches fundamental principles of using stepladders, extension ladders and aluminum walk boards. The training is designed to help you choose the right ladder for the job, show how to properly set up the ladder, how to correctly use the ladder and includes other valuable ladder safety information. We have both ­on-demand classes and virtual training available.”

WernerCo. ladder

WernerCo. ladder,

Michael M. Melton, vice president and general manager for safe access climbing at ­WernerCo., Itasca, Ill., said today’s ladder designs are lighter and more versatile than before, allowing the pros to do more each day. Lighter weight designs, improved lockups and updated accessories all blend to make professional users more productive.

“Fiberglass ladders should always be used when performing electrical work. It is the safest ladder material because it will not conduct electricity,” Melton said. “Fiberglass is also an extremely strong and durable material, helping to support users and their equipment while on the ladder. An aluminum, or any metal ladder, should not be used around any type of electrical work as metal is a conductive material.” 

WernerCo. offers several ladders with features designed specifically for electricians. A few examples include:

The Podium+, introduced in July, provides a large 360-degree platform ideal for safely and comfortably working at a fixed height and in any direction. It is also easy to set up and maneuver in tight spots due to its lighter weight and compact size. The contoured guardrail provides an added layer of stability by providing a wraparound cradle at waist height, and the redesigned ladder top provides 10 unique design features to hold tools for multiple electrical application needs. 

A go-to product for electricians is the Old Blue series fiberglass electricians’ ladder. It is not an ordinary stepladder, as it also serves as a job station. With a duty rating of 375 pounds, this 6-foot ladder is custom-­made with electricians in mind. The top lock-in system allows tools to be secured right to the ladder and makes them handy and ready to use. The MagnaGrip heavy-duty magnet secures tools and hardware right to the ladder top.

The AERO lightweight extension ladder—designed with BOXLOK technology—is optimized for strength and rigidity. The industrial-grade fiberglass extension ladder offers a climbing experience that provides rock-solid stability for electricians to safely focus on the job at hand.

“Werner developed the Multi-Position Fiberglass Pro, the ultimate multiposition ladder that can replace five common ladder types,” Melton said. “The telescoping design allows the ladder to be used in five different positions: twin stepladder, stairway stepladder, extension ladder, wall ladder and as two scaffold bases.”

Typically, Melton said, electrical contractors purchase ladders with a 300-pound load capacity and Type IA duty rating, as they are looking for ­professional-grade equipment to support their weight and that of tools or other supplies. Fiberglass stepladders and extension ladders are the most in-demand designs because they are commonly needed for electrical projects that require access to higher wall panels and ceilings.

A common challenge for electricians is working on uneven ground. With that in mind, levelers for fiberglass extension ladders are among the most popular accessories, helping electrical contractors to work safely on uneven surfaces.

The most common ladder accessories for electrical jobs are lock-in ones that can hold anything, from a utility hook that holds fish tape to a caddy that has spaces for screwdrivers, pliers and other electrician’s tools. Depending on the difficulty of the electrical project, many professionals need a place on their ladder where they can store these items for easy accessibility.

In June, WernerCo. rolled out a new look for its ladders that includes a consistent use of color and labeling for quick identification, high-visibility yellow on ladder tops and bottoms and an iconographic product and safety labeling system for simpler, multilingual communication and easy reference. The rollout will continue through 2024.

Header image: Louisville Ladder,

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].





featured Video


New from Lutron: Lumaris tape light

Want an easier way to do tunable white tape light?


Related Articles