For ladder safety, focus on surroundings, job hazards, height needs
Accidents happen for millions of reasons, but the truth is, they are all preventable. Three major causes are common in almost all accidents; not using the right tool for the job; using a damaged tool that hasn’t been inspected; and not following the basic safety guideline for that tool. When people decide to get creative and cut corners to save a little time or effort, they expose themselves to accidents and injuries.
Creativity is the enemy of safety.
Let’s address some of these common causes of accidents and then find some answers on prevention.
Choosing the right ladder
The first rule for using the right ladder is to use a ladder.
Too often, people just grab the closest thing to them and end up standing on buckets or chairs instead of taking a few minutes to go get the ladder.
When choosing a ladder, make sure it is tall enough for the job. Ladders are marketed and sold by their total height or the total length of their sections, not their usable height. You should never stand on the top cap or use the top step of a stepladder. That means you should only be four feet off the ground if you are using a six-foot ladder. You will need the top two feet of the ladder to hold onto or lean against to maintain your three points of contact.
Extension ladders are sold by the total length of their sections and only mention the three feet of overlap in the smaller print. A 20-foot extension ladder is two 10-foot sections, but because of the overlap needed, it is only 17 feet long. If you are using it to climb on the roof, you should have three feet of ladder above the roofline to give you something to hold onto as you transition on and off the ladder.
Given all these factors, you almost always need a bigger ladder than you think. Make sure the weight rating of the ladder you choose is greater than your weight and all the clothes, tools and equipment you will be carrying. Remember, when using any ladder, be aware of your surroundings and never use an aluminum ladder when working on or near electricity.
Steps for a thorough inspection
If there is any damage to a ladder that wasn’t there when the ladder was built and tested, do not use it.
Ladders are built with a 4 to 1 safety ratio, meaning a ladder rated for 250 lbs. was tested to hold 1,000 lbs. when it was made. If the rungs or side rails are bent, broken cracked or split you don’t know what that ladder is rated for, so don’t use it.
There are a few things that most people don’t think to look for. One of the most important is the ladder’s feet. They are made of a soft material and have tread like the tires on your vehicle. If the tread is worn down, they should be replaced, just like your tires. Ladders should be staked down or tied in place before they are used -- but this rarely happens. Too often, the feet of the ladder are the only thing holding the ladder in place, so they should be kept in good condition. Remember, a ladder in good condition that is climbed properly will never be the cause of the accident.
Tips for using a ladder safely
- Ladders should be set up on firm, level ground. Never use bricks or boards to level your ladder. Instead of building up the low side, you should dig out the high side for proper set up. There are after-market levelers that can be added to ladders to help with leveling, and several manufactures make models with levelers already attached.
- Always face the ladder when using it and maintain three points of contact as you climb up and down.
- Never carry any tool or equipment up a ladder that might cause you to lose your balance. Heavy tools and equipment should be raised using a rope or lift.
- These rules are to help the climber safely ascend and descend the ladder. If you are working on a ladder, make sure you lean your leg or hip into the ladder to maintain balance and contact with the ladder.
- The most important rule of ladder use is to keep your body between the siderails. Never overreach. If you can’t reach something without leaning outside of the siderails, climb down and move the ladder over. Almost all the disabling or fatal accidents on ladders are caused by losing balance while overreaching.
The American Ladder Institute (ALI) believes all ladder-related accidents are preventable. To reduce the numbers of accidents and injuries involving ladders the, ALI is promoting Ladder Safety Month every March. During March 2020, National Ladder Safety Month will bring heightened awareness to the importance of the safe use of ladders through resources, training and a national dialogue. To get involved, visit www.laddersafetymonth.com.