Ladder Safety in the Home – preventing catastrophes

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?

Inspect for:

  • 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

ladder safety label

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

improper footwear on ladder

  • 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

man standing on top of step ladder

  • 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
  • misalignment
  • loose or missing hardware
  • wrong mounting hardware
  • insufficient mounting hardware

attic ladder 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.

Final thoughts

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.

Best Regards,

Rick

SaferHomeNow.com

Comments 8

  1. Hi Rick,

    Wow, lots to consider and those injury and death stats are mindnumbing…….I never would have thought that number was so high and how in the world does a 1 month old sustain a ladder injury? 2 things really caught my eye, the weight limit and the attic stairs. I guessed a weight limit would be listed somewhere, but never really paid attention and didn’t consider anything I would be carrying up the ladder as added weight. Our attic stairs are in the garage and they are definitely unstable, have gaps in them, but believe the hardware is secure – I’m getting my son-in-law to inspect that this week! Great informative post!

    1. Post
      Author

      Cathy,

      I’m glad to know you’re taking this seriously by taking immediate action. Glad you found the information helpful.
      As to how a 1-month-old could be injured had me wondering, too. Your guess would be as good as mine, but a few things that came to mind were someone fell off a climbing device onto the baby, or someone was fell from a step stool while having their baby strapped to themselves in one of those papoose type carriers. Sadly, nothing would surprise me.

      Thank you for taking time to read and reply. Please be sure to share this with family and friends.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  2. It’s quite scary to consider that there are so many ladder deaths and injuries. A lot of it is common sense and practising safety. It’s amazing how many people wear the wrong footwear or don’t make the ladder secure. Thanks for writing this sensible post, it’s a great checklist for safety.

    1. Post
      Author

      I fully agree with you, Helen, but too often people either lack common sense or they don’t think anything will happen to them. When I first started doing home inspections, I took risks getting on certain roofs or climbing on unsafe attic access ladders because I wanted to give my clients their money’s worth. I eventually realized I would be no good to them if I were to fall and become incapacitated. My wife wouldn’t have appreciated it either.

      I appreciate your encouraging words.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  3. Rick,
    Great thorough post. Working in the construction industry most of my life, a site like yours if extremely necessary. The factual content alongside the daily practice guidelines is well thought out. I found this post very beneficial and it is always nice to have a great refresher on everyday tasks that seemed to always get overlooked. Great Take!

    1. Post
      Author

      Nic,

      Great to hear from you, especially being you’re in the construction industry! Every time I see construction workers, I feel sorry for them having to work in the elements day in and day out, not to mention the manual labor. My hat’s off to you.

      Your input helps me know I’m on the right track, educating and in many cases simply reminding people to stay safe!

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  4. This is a great reminder on the importance of watching what you do on ladders! I have had a few near-falls, myself, mostly due to improper use of the ladder. I try never to stand on the top to steps myself (on taller ladders). Makes me feel most safe 🙂

    1. Post
      Author

      Christen,

      Glad to hear you had near-falls and not falls! I noticed a key word in your comment – “try”. I, too, “try” not to use the “top two”, but we take chances when we “do what we gotta do”. But I need to practice what I preach, so I’m not taking any more chances. I’m not as young as I used to be!

      Thanks for taking time to comment. Stay safe

      Best Regards,

      Rick

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