Ladder Safety

Ladders are used by almost everyone at one time or another. They're so commonplace, that their safe use if often taken for granted. Unfortunately, injuries sustained by falls from ladders are also commonplace. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that each year more than 511,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms and other medical settings because they failed to use ladders safely. More than 300 people a year die from injuries related to ladders-that's almost one death per day. Many of these injuries and deaths can be avoided by following simple safety guidelines when using ladder.

Use the correct ladder

Use a ladder of proper length and workload for the job at hand. Light ladders rated for household use may only support a 200 lb. working load. Extra heavy duty industrial ladders will support working loads up to 300 lbs. A step ladder may work well indoors, but extension ladders may be needed at times. Never use a ladder that is too short for the job at hand. You will be tempted to over-reach or lean the ladder at unsafe angles, increasing your chances for an accident.

Inspect the ladder

Always inspect a ladder before using it. Never use a ladder if it is damaged, broken, unstable or bent. Never make temporary repairs to a ladder - they may fail or you may forget to complete the repair later. Keep ladder clean and free of debris, mud, snow - anything that could cause you to loose your footing.

Moving the ladder

Carry ladders parallel to the ground. Hold the side rail in the middle of the ladder and balance the load. Get help moving heavy or long ladders. Watch the ends of the ladder at all times to avoid striking nearby persons or things. Carry stepladders in the closed position.

Setting up the ladder

Before you use any ladder outside the house make certain it will not hit any electrical wires, tree limbs or any other obstructions when it is extended. make sure the ladder is stable by placing the feet of the ladder on firm, even ground. The bottom of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet that the ladder rises. When standing at it's base, you should be able to just touch the rungs with your arms outstretched. The sections of an extension ladder should always overlap to provide stability, and you should make certain the locks between the sections engaged before climbing the ladder.

Before using a stepladder, make sure it is fully open, and the spreaders or braces between the two sections are fully extended and locked. Never place stepladders (or any ladder) on boxes, countertops or unstable surfaces to gain additional height. The highest standing level on a stepladder should be two steps down from the top.

Using the ladder

Before climbing any ladder, make sure the locks are secured and the bottom and top of the ladder rails are on firm surfaces. The soles of your shoes should be clean so they don't slip off the ladder rungs. Don't wear leather-soled shoes-they can be slippery. Your shoelaces should be securely tied. Make sure your shoe-laces and pant legs are not so long that they extend under your shoes and cause you to slip.
  • Face the ladder while climbing and stay in the center of the rails. Grip both rails securely while climbing. Do not lean over the side of the ladder. Your belt buckle should not be further than the side rail.
  • On single or extension ladders, never stand above the third rung from the top and never climb above the point where the ladder touches the wall or vertical support.
  • On stepladders, never stand on the paint shelf, spreaders or back section.
  • Never stand on the top rung of any ladder.
  • Don't overreach; it's safer to move the ladder to a new location when needed. Don't try to "jog" or "walk" the ladder to a new location while standing on it. Climb down and reposition the ladder.
  • Don't overload a ladder; it is meant to be used by only one person at a time.
  • Never use a ladder in high winds.
  • Do not use any ladder if you tire easily, are subject to fainting spells or are using medications or alcohol that make you dizzy or drowsy.

What to do if you fall from a ladder

  • Calmly assess the situation and determine if you are hurt.
  • Get up slowly.
  • If you feel that an injury has occurred which prevents standing or walking, don't panic. Call for assistance. If the injury is serious, call 911.
  • If you are not injured, rest for awhile and regain your composure before climbing again.
Ladders are useful tools, but they must be used properly to avoid turning a household chore into a trip to the emergency room or a physician's office.

Information courtesy American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons