Most, if not all, households and many workplaces require using some type of ladder at some point. Whether it is stocking top shelves or changing your child’s bedroom light, ladders can make the job much easier. Ladders are only as safe, though, as the people who are using them. Sadly, hospital reports indicate that users are not as safe as they should be. As such, we have put this ladder safety guide together to help you avoid injuries and fatalities due to falls from ladders. Following these ladder safety tips will increase your chances of using a ladder without incident.
Ladder Injury Statistics
Ladder safety is no joke and no laughing matter. Though the numbers fluctuate from year to year, statistics show that approximately 500,000 per year are treated for ladder injuries. At least 300 of those are fatal. Somewhere are 97% of these falls occur at homes and farms while about 2/5th of workplace falls are ladder falls. To make it even more clear, there are approximately $24 billion dollars spent annually on injuries related to ladders.
Common Types of Ladder Accidents
The sad truth is that most of these accidents are preventable as is evidenced by the four most common types of ladder accidents. These are the following:
1. Using the Wrong Ladder
It is always important to choose the right tool for your job, and this definitely includes ladders. The biggest part of this is that you need to select the appropriate ladder size for the job. A lot of accidents happen by placing a ladder that is too short on another surface to make it high enough. This is absolutely dangerous and the wrong way to use a ladder.
It is always best to find a ladder that can get you where you need to be. Don’t shortchange yourself here. If you do not have the correct size ladder, put the project on hold until you do. Ask friends and family to borrow one, or purchase a new one when you can, but absolutely do not use the wrong height.
2. Using a Ladder Incorrectly
Do not use your ladder for anything other than what it is intended for. Do not use it in places that are obviously unsafe. Keep your DIY knowledge to safer projects and do not try to alter it in any way to lengthen it. Use it exactly as the manufacturer’s sticker suggest and in no other way.
3. Using a Worn Out or Damaged Ladder
There are many people who think things such as, “Well, this belonged to my granddaddy and it never let him down, so it will be fine,” or “I’ve had this thing for years, and it’s still as good as the day I got it. I don’t need a new one.” Yes, you do. The longer it has been used, the greater chance or wearing or damage. Even if it seems fine in every other way, the inner mechanisms that hold it in place may be breaking down, or the rungs may be smoothing out from constant use. Check the manufacturer’s information for how often it should be replaced. If you want to keep your grandfather’s ladder for sentimental reasons, that’s fine. Just hang it on a wall in your garage so you can see it. Do not risk using it.
4. Positioning the Ladder Incorrectly or in a Bad Spot
You will hear this a few times throughout this guide, but it bears repeating since it is the cause of so many accidents. Always, always, always be mindful of where you are placing your ladder. Bear in mind that this piece of metal is going to support you, but you have to do your part. Be sure that the feet are placed on firm, level ground. Do not be in a busy walkway or doorway without taking precautions (more on this below). Do not lean it against a surface which is not firm. Practice common sense.
The numbers show that ladder accidents can happen anywhere, and they can be deadly, so you need to be careful everywhere you use a ladder.
Types of Ladders
For the safest use, you should always pick the right type of ladder for the job you need to complete. You might think that this should be a short section, but there are many more ladders than the average person probably knows exists. However, we are going to keep it simple because most of those ladders are, in some way, a variation of the four main types. They can actually get pretty creative, but the other options are more specialized and not as commonly used. The four main ladder types are as follows:
- Step Ladders
These are probably the most common type of ladder and most homes probably have one. These are those handy helpers when you need to reach something that is on your highest kitchen cabinet shelf, or when you need to change a light bulb. These are meant for these types of household tasks.
They will remain sturdy so long as you do not try to use it for the wrong purpose. Some of what you should avoid when using a stepladder is similar to other ladders: do not reach too far, stay off the top step unless it states otherwise (usually on the small, two step ones), do not overload it or try to climb it with heavy items.
Step Ladders can come in a few different heights, but the height is not adjustable. The tallest ones are usually not made for you to step on the highest step. They are handy, but only for everyday tasks in which you need an extra foot or two.
- Straight Ladders
Straight ladders are those tall ladders that have only one section. There is not extension, and pretty much nothing extra. They come in multiple heights for you to choose from. They are useful but should not be used indoors if they are taller than your ceiling height as that will not allow for proper angling.
- Combination Ladders
A combination ladder is one that can be converted from an extension ladder to a twin step ladder. Their versatility makes them extremely handy, but they can also be expensive.
- Extension Ladders
Extension ladders are one of the common ones you often see leaning on a house or building. They have two sections that are attached by brackets, one of which can be extended to much greater heights.
As you can see, not all ladders are created equally. Different ladders are for different purposes, so you should always choose the correct one for the task at hand. There are also different weight classes to consider, which are as follows:
- Type III- Light Duty- up to 200 lbs
- Type II- Medium Duty- up to 225 lbs
- Type I- Heavy Duty- up to 250 lbs.
- Type IA- Extra Heavy Duty- up to 300 lbs
- Type IAA- Extra Heavy (Heavier) Duty- up to 375 lbs
In addition to the right type of ladder, you should choose the right weight capacity as well.
How to Set Your Ladder Up Safely
If you do not set it up right, you are setting yourself up for danger. Use it right with these set up tips:
- Place the feet on firm, level, and unmoving surface. If the ladder is not level, it can very easily topple over and cause a serious or fatal injury.
- Stay away from walkways and doorways. For what is likely obvious reasons, you should never place your ladder in front of a door or in a walkway because people can come through without paying attention and easily knock you over. Stay out of high traffic areas especially. If you must be in a doorway for some reason, be sure that the door is shut and locked so no one can come barreling through it.
- Make sure there is no electricity close by. Of course you do not want to lean your ladder onto electrical times but your precautions should go a bit further than that. If possible, do not be anywhere near an electrical source or cut the source’s power.
- My brother-in-law once worked for a company that dealt with cleaning up trees and power lines after storm damage. He had worked there for years with no incident, so he understood how to be safe. One day, though, a coworker tried to throw some materials up to him instead of him having to come back down. The materials did not quite make it far enough and out of pure reaction he reached out too far to try to grab them. Sadly, he landed directly on a power. He was fortunate enough to live, but his sides had been partially blown out.
- The bottom line here is to never allow yourself to feel safe around electricity because that is when mistakes really start happening. Respect electricity as the indiscriminate power source it is. If you are not careful, you risk a lot of pain and injury.
- Angle it against your support spot ¼ of the working length. Do not put your ladder anywhere near directly up and down. It has to lean on something for support, so be sure to angle it. Do not prop it against a window or other unstable surface.
- Extend a minimum of 3 feet above what it is leaned against. Your ladder should not stop at the top of your support. It needs to go over by at least 3 feet. For instance, if you need to get to a roof that is 10 feet above you, the ladder needs to go right past that 10 feet and on to 13 feet for proper balance and support.
- Be sure all locks are in place. Ladders come equipped with locks for safety, so be sure that they are all in place before you step foot on your ladder.
- Read And Follow The Instructions On The Ladder
You may wonder why such a simple tool as a ladder would need instructions, but they do. The designers and manufacturers give you the information you need to be safe based on the trial runs they do and insight they gain. Pay attention to those instructions- they are not there simply for decoration.
- Properly Inspect Your Ladder Prior To Use
You should always inspect each and every tool that you use before use, and that includes your ladder. Be sure that the feet have the slip resistant pads in place. If not, do not use this ladder. Check each rung for anything slippery and any kind of damage instead of blindly climbing up. You need to be responsible when it comes to your safety.
- Three points of Contact
You should always have three points of contact with the ladder at all times. Whether you are climbing up or down, you need three limbs connected to the ladder- either two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot. This three point contact will provide an extra level of security.
- Be conscious of Ladder weight Limits
Do not exceed the weight limits. Your letter will have weight limits, and they are not just made up for fun. That means that the ladder can only safety support the weight stated. Do not attempt to go over this weight for any reason.
- Not to Carry heavy items
Do not carry heavy items up the ladder. Heavy items can either put you off balance, put too much weight on the ladder, and will likely cause you to not have three points of contact, as you are supposed to. This is simply not a good idea. Find another way to get what you need your work area- a safer way.
- Try not to step onto the top three rungs
Do not go onto the top three rungs of a single, straight, or extension ladder. The top three steps or rungs of your ladder should not be stepped on or stood on. This will make the ladder too top heavy and it will likely topple over with you on it.
- To make calculated movements
Do not pull, lean, stretch, or move suddenly while on the ladder. Your ladder’s feet need to stay firmly on the ground. To help make sure this happens, don’t stretch, lean over, or make any sudden moves. Make calculated movements to help ensure safety. If you need something up on the ladder with you, i.e. and can of paint, use a ladder with a scaffold on top. This keeps you from having to make too many movements, and it keeps your hand planted firmly on the ladder.
- Take extra precautions while closing to Electricity
Use fiberglass if you will be close to electricity. I mentioned before to do everything in your power to avoid electricity. Sometimes, that may not be possible, which means taking extra precautions. A huge one is to use a fiberglass ladder if there is any chance of contact with electricity. This will at minimum decrease your likelihood of electrocution, but do be sure to be super careful.
- Try to secure the top of your Ladder
Secure the top if you must be near busy walkways. You must be cautious by doors, as cautious as possible. Sometimes you cannot avoid walkways and doorways. If that is the case, try first to do this work in the slowest amount of traffic possible. Lock doors to prevent people from running in without seeing you. Also, try securing the top of your ladder. This might involve screwing it in, or something else that will leave a permanent mark.
- Wearing shoes to keep a Grip
Wearing shoes with traction is best. Wearing shoes that are intended to help you keep a grip on your surface is important, especially when you are climbing something as potentially unstable as a ladder. You need to give yourself safety measure possible.
- Try to wear clothes that fit you Well
Do not wear clothes that are baggy enough or long enough to catch onto anything and cause a fall. Have you ever walked quickly by a doorknob with a jacket, baggy shirt, or pants on and found yourself getting hung on the knob? Or maybe a long necklace or loose shoestring got caught on something. This is absolutely not want you want to happen when you are climbing up or down a ladder. It is not that you have to wear restrictive or extremely tight items. Simply make sure they fit you well enough that they should not get caught on anything.
- Avoid using a ladder while Children or Pets are around
Beware little ones and four legged friends. If you have children or pets, you should be extra careful with them around. They might run under the ladder, run into the ladder, or try to climb up the ladder- all of which are really dangerous situations. If you can avoid using a ladder while they are around, or at least have someone keeping them away from the ladder, that would be best.
- Avoid using a ladder when Home Alone
Try not to use a ladder when home alone- in case you do fall, someone needs to be there. Being injured is bad enough. Being injured with no one around to help is worse. There are people who fall and hurt their backs to the point that they cannot move, roll over, or anything else. They end up having to wait until someone else comes home to get help. Can you imagine the agony? Instead, be safe and wait until someone is around that can check on you.
- Be updated about Weather
Check your local weather report before getting on a ladder. If any rain, wind, lightening, or any other strong weather is coming, do not climb the ladder. Whatever your project is, it can wait until safer conditions.
- Check In With Yourself
Before you step near a ladder, check in with yourself. Do you feel dizzy? Overtired? Unbalanced? Or abnormal in any other way? If so, it is best to stay away from the ladder for now. Wait until you feel better to climb it.
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Ladder safety is extremely important and not as common as it should be. It is very important that you work hard to maintain your safety as no one else will do it as well as you. Though nothing is guaranteed, following these ladder safety tips can greatly minimize the risk of injury or death caused by ladder falls.