Ladder safety is a common home issue, with roughly 180,000 emergency room visits and 150 deaths associated with household ladder use every year. And while human error may explain some of these problems, Consumer Reports notes in their recent report that lax ladder safety standards and questionable designs may also play a role.
Many ladders performed well in Consumer Reports' recent single-person use tests of step, multiuse and telescoping ladders. But seven 22- to 26-foot multiuse and six telescoping ladders presented safety risks serious enough for them to be judged Not Acceptable.
CR judged the following multiuse ladders as Not Acceptable: Cosco 20221-TIA; Little Giant M22 Types I and IA aluminum, M 22 Type IA fiberglass, M 26 Type IA aluminum; and Werner MT-22 and MT-26. Multiuse ladders from 12 to 15 feet from Cosco, Werner, and Little Giant were rated as having Very Good performance in Consumer Reports' single-person use tests.
Consumer Reports also judged six 12½ -foot telescoping extension ladders Not Acceptable: Telesteps 1205 Types IA, I, and II (discontinued but may still be available), 1600 Types IA and I; and Xtend & Climb 770. Consumer Reports did not report on other telescoping ladders by Telesteps or Xtend & Climb, but a stepladder by Telesteps was very highly rated.
Separately, CR notes that safety standards for consumer ladders are not mandatory. Instead, there are voluntary standards published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which outline types based on a maximum weight.
"We're very troubled by the safety issues we found with these ladders and by the fact that safety standards are voluntary for an inherently risky product," said Don Mays, senior director for product safety at Consumers Union. "Consumers who use these products may develop a false sense of security that they need only rely on their common sense to be safe."
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, advocates meeting ladder safety standards should be mandatory and for one rating for all consumer ladders to meet the Type IA standard, which calls for a maximum weight of 300 pounds.
Multiuse + telescoping ladders
CR notes that multiuse ladders can offer versatility because they can act as an extension or stepladder, or a scaffold, and can be used on stairs. But the seven multiuse ladders that Consumer Reports judged Not Acceptable were extremely difficult for one person to safely lift, maneuver, and fully extend. They also posed a crushing safety hazard to hands and fingers between the ladder's upper and lower sections as CR attempted to extend them and then collapse them for storage.
These seven ladders all extend beyond 22 feet. Consumer Reports suggests that for taller around-the-house projects that are 17 feet or higher above the ground, consumers are better off choosing a conventional, Type IA extension ladder.
All of the multiuse ladders that reach 12 to 15 feet had Very Good performance in Consumer Reports testing. The Gorilla AL-13 ($100) and the Werner MT-13 ($120) are good choices for consumers looking for a multiuse ladder. Both performed well in CR's tests and are rated CR Best Buys.
Of the Not Acceptable telescoping ladders, the five Telesteps models include instructions for slowing their descent upon collapse but CR found it all too easy for users not to follow them, allowing sections to collapse quickly, posing a crushing risk to hands and fingers.
Tests of the Xtend & Climb 770 telescoping ladder showed that its feet could easily slide out from under the user on smooth surfaces. Another safety issue was the lack of a positive locking indication for the rungs on the ladder.
Step ladders are best for their light weight and uncomplicated use for tasks near the ground. A shelf on the ladder is a nice accessory that can hold tools or paint. Consumer Reports tested 18 6-foot stepladders and rated the Cosco 2061A ($80), the Davidson 486-06 ($90) and the Husky 01-46002-00 ($90) all CR Best Buys. The aluminum Cosco combines top performance with easy carrying. And the fiberglass Davidson and Husky can be good choices where one may be close to power lines.
Climbing any ladder involves some risk. Consumer Reports recommends the following tips for safe ladder use:
Consumers can visit Consumer Reports  to access full ratings of stepladders and multiuse ladders, and additional ladder safety tips.