Ladders have many uses in and around the home. We use them for a variety of things including trimming trees, getting on the roof, replacing light bulbs, and decorating for the holidays. But do we use them safely?
Thousands of people are injured and hundreds killed every year from ladder-related incidents. Over the last ten years, ladder-related deaths have tripled! Would you believe a one-month-old was treated in an emergency room for ladder-related injury?
I’ve taken chances, as I’m sure you have. But now that I’m getting older, I realize it’s not worth taking chances. Falls from ladders are the leading cause of ladder-related injuries, and ladder-related deaths have tripled over the last ten years.
For this reason, it is important for all of us to learn or be reminded of ladder safety rules.
Before getting on a ladder
1. Respect the ladder
As with any tool, machine, device, etc., it is imperative to realize that improper use can and often does result in injury and sometimes death. The problem is, we get in the habit of misusing things and nothing happens. After a while we become complacent. That’s when bad things happen.
- A ladder is not a toy. Do not use it for performing stunts. Even if you survive the stunt, you probably won’t win any money from your funniest home video, though we’ll all get a good laugh at your expense.
- Young people, you’re not invincible. Slow down. Be careful.
- Older folks and seniors, you don’t have the dexterity you once had. Be careful. If in doubt, find someone to help you.
- Don’t use a ladder or other climbing device if you’re tired, on medication, or have been drinking.
- Be as careful on a 3-foot step stool or 6-foot step ladder as you would be on a 24-foot extension ladder.
- I found this statistic interesting – the majority of falls resulting in injury or death occur from a height between 6 and 10 feet from the surface.
2. Inspect the ladder
You might think inspecting your ladder isn’t all that important. After all, you’re the only one who uses it. But how old is your ladder, and when was the last time you actually inspected it?
- loose or missing parts;
- cracks, bends, splits, corrosion or loose bolts or rivets;
- stability – not rickety or wobbly;
- proper engagement of locking mechanisms and spreader braces;
- oil, grease, or other slipping hazards on rungs or steps;
- proper operation of rung locks and spreader braces;
- ropes – replace if worn or frayed.
3. Use the appropriate ladder
There are many types and styles of ladders: extension ladders, platform ladders, folding ladders, articulating ladders, telescoping ladders, step ladders, step stools, and many more.
As a homeowner, you are more likely to use an extension ladder, step ladder and step stool, so my focus will be on these three. Most safety rules, though, can be applied to all climbing devices.
Before using a ladder or climbing device, make sure it’s the right one. For help in choosing the best ladders for your home, click here.
Weight and height limit
Every ladder has a weight limit. It can be found on a clearly marked label on your ladder. This includes your weight PLUS the weight of anything you will carry on the ladder with you. If the label is missing, contact the manufacturer.
Measure the height of the area you’ll be accessing, then be sure you understand the manufacturer’s instructions for determining height and reach. This applies primarily to extension ladders. Werner (wernerco.com) recommends extension ladders be 7 to 10 feet longer than the highest support or contact point. The “extra” length is needed for proper setup, overlapping of ladder sections, and height restrictions.
For step ladders, most manufacturers recommend stepping no higher than the second from the top step. Never stand on the top platform unless the ladder is designed for such. Many falls occur from loss of balance.
As a homeowner, your most likely use of an extension ladder will be for getting on the roof. Be sure your ladder extends at least 3 feet above the roof line. Never stand on the three top rungs. Never use a step ladder to get onto your roof.
OK, we’re ready to get on the ladder
1. Use all ladders safely
- Wear clean slip-resistant shoes.
- Only one person should be on the ladder at a time.
- Set the ladder up properly, ensuring all locks are properly engaged.
- Always use the 3-point rule: two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot in contact with the ladder.
- Hold onto the rungs, not the side rails, when going up or down the ladder.
- Make sure you place the ladder on a level, firm surface. If necessary, use boards for leveling the surface.
- Avoid electrical hazards! – Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.
- When on a ladder, face the ladder and keep your body centered between the ladder rails at all times. Move the ladder as needed rather than overreaching and risk falling.
- Climb all ladders slowly, avoiding sudden movements.
- Alert family members and block or lock doors if you must be on a climbing device in front of or near a door.
- Avoid carrying tools on a ladder. Use a tool belt to keep your hands free for holding the ladder.
- Be aware of overhead power lines and stay clear of them. Use a fiberglass ladder if you must work near power lines.
2. Additional safety considerations for in and around the home
- Before using a ladder, let someone know and ask them to check on you from time to time.
- Be careful using a ladder when the grass is wet from morning dew or the sprinkler system.
- Refrain from sitting on the rungs.
- Do not:
- use an extension ladder in high wind conditions;
- use ladders outside when it’s raining;
- push, pull, stretch, jerk, or make sudden moves while on a ladder;
- leave a raised ladder unattended when infants and toddlers are present;
- sit on the top platform;
- climb on the back side of a ladder unless the ladder is designed for such;
- climb on the back side of an extension ladder;
- abuse the ladder by dropping it or throwing it, such as into the bed of your truck.
Let’s not forget attic access ladders
The attic access ladder I observed most often during my time as a home inspector was the pull-down, or folding ladder. More times than not I had to note these ladders as “deficient”. I recommend inspecting your attic access ladder and making corrections where needed.
Common deficiencies I encountered:
- excessive wobble
- improper contact with the floor
- loose or missing hardware
- wrong mounting hardware
- insufficient mounting hardware
If your only problem is loose hardware, you can fix that yourself. For everything else, including a thorough inspection of your attic access ladder, I recommend consulting a qualified contractor.
Using a ladder can be dangerous. Using it in an unsafe manner is dangerous. When using any climbing device, no matter how short the device is, use extreme caution. Remember, most ladder-related injuries were preventable.
The safety recommendations listed in this article are geared for ladder usage in and around the home. The list is not all-inclusive. Please feel free to add to this list, and share your experiences with us. As always, I will reply to comments as quickly as possible.