Despite being one of the most commonly used tools both at home and on the job, ladders will often be used improperly. Unfortunately, this often leads to injury or even death. According to the American Journal of Preventable Medicine, over 136,000 people head to the hospital every year for ladder-related emergencies – and 10% of those people need to be admitted for extended and costly stays.
Imagine how those numbers would change if everyone just practiced a little common sense when it comes to ladder safety. Next time you’re getting ready to use a ladder, read the manufacturer’s guidelines first – even people who use ladders regularly can use a refresher on occasion.
Here are some handy tips to always keep in mind:
Safety Starts With Your Ladder
Before you do anything else, your ladder needs to be in good working order. Even if you handle it frequently, you should perform a basic inspection before each use. Regrettably, this is something many people often overlook.
Items to look for include:
- Cracked or broken steps or rungs
- Loose or missing hinges or hinges that do not lock
- Rot or decay in wooden ladders
- Missing or damaged non-slip feet
- Dirt and debris, including mud, grease, or other slippery substances
- Wobble (ladders should always stand firm without moving side-to-side)
Always Set Up Your Ladder Properly
A ladder needs to be set up properly to be safe to use. Improper set up is a leading cause of accidental falls and means that many people are not following even the most basic guidelines. In most cases, injury can be easily avoided by following these simple rules:
- Make sure rail spreaders are open and locked
- Place the non-skid ladder feet on level ground
- If you are working near a door, lock it or otherwise brace it so it can’t be opened
- Don’t place tools or other obstacles on the ladder
For extension ladders:
- Keep the ladder feet level (use ladder levelers if necessary)
- Place the non-skid ladder feet on solid ground – no gravel or other loose debris
- Make sure the ladder isn’t too close to the edge of the building
- Extend the ladder at least three feet above whatever surface you’re working on
- Don’t rest an extension ladder against a tree, pole, or other surfaces where it could rotate
- Always use the correct angle. As a good rule of thumb, there should be a 75-degree angle between the ladder’s resting point and the base of the wall.
Practice Safe Use
For those who use a ladder frequently, it seems like nothing bad could ever happen. However, being lax and careless is what leads to accidents. Proper usage takes little time or effort and can save a costly trip to the emergency room. Some good general rules are:
- Always maintain 3 points of contact – either two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot
- Never overreach or overextend
- Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on weight limit – every ladder is designed to hold only a specified amount of weight including you AND your equipment
- Never stand on the top step or rung of the ladder
- Do not try to move or shift the ladder while you’re standing on it
- Avoid electrical hazards – always look for nearby wires before climbing
If you can remember just one rule about ladders, let it be this: never take shortcuts! No matter how much time it will save you, or how quickly you need to get the job done, cutting corners is never the answer. A few extra minutes on the job is certainly better than a few months of bedrest!