Photo by Tudor Van Hampton / ENR
Tall vans call for drop-down racks, such as this one on display at the Work Truck Show.

As more automakers are building tall, unibody work vans to replace such dinosaurs as the now-extinct Ford Econoline, fleets are increasingly pairing their rolling investments with accessories that boost versatility and increase safety.

One area where the additional investment pays off is on the roof of the van. The newer, European-style vans, such as those built by Mercedes-Benz, can be far taller than conventional cargo vans—some high-roof models are now cavernous enough to accommodate a professional basketball player inside. That makes for easier storage but can turn the process of retrieving an extension ladder into back-breaking work and create new opportunities for slips and falls.

"Now, more than ever, you are going to need a drop-down ladder rack," said Rob Swelgin, marketing manager for Werner Co., at this year's Work Truck Show. Fleets looking to improve risk also are opting for lighter ladders, he added.

The Greenville, Pa.-based ladder manufacturer, which also owns Knaack jobsite tool boxes and Weather Guard cargo organizers, was one of several makers who used the Indianapolis show, held March 4-6, to exhibit an ergonomic ladder rack. Its Weather Guard EZ-Glide2 held two 36-ft fiberglass extension ladders on a mid-roof Ford Transit contractor van.

During demos, attendees grabbed the telescoping control arm and watched a hydraulic cylinder smoothly pivot the ladder over the passenger side of the vehicle.

According to Weather Guard, the new device requires 50% less effort than the outgoing model. When it goes on sale this June, its price also will be 30% less.