Ladder Safety Tips

At any time of the year, your home maintenance duties can require you to use a ladder. Whether it's putting up your Christmas lights and decorations, cleaning your gutters in the spring or trimming a tree branch a ladder is a pretty necessary piece of equipment. Most of us don't think much about our ladders; we just pull it out of the garage, put it up and get to work. But, maybe before you do grab that ladder you should think stop and think about this for a moment. according to the Underwriter's Laboratory statistics, ladder accidents account for over 220,000 visits to emergency rooms annually, (and that's just home users - it doesn't include work related accidents). Maybe we should all treat our ladders with a little more respect. Here are some ideas that could keep you from becoming one of those statistics.

Here's the most important thing, to keep in mind, if you're uncomfortable using a ladder - don't do it. Stay safe and hire a professional to do the job. Your health isn't worth the few dollars you will save by doing it yourself.

Now, even if you are comfortable using a ladder, keep these points in mind.

  1. Check it out:
    Always look your ladder over before using it. This is especially important in the spring when your ladder has probably been stored away for most of the winter.
  2. Check for loose or damaged rungs, side rails or braces:
    On metal ladders, look for rough spots, burrs or splinters that could cause cuts. On wooden ladders look for cracks in rails and rungs and check for signs of wood rot or splinters. On extension ladders, be sure the ropes and pulleys are in good repair. Replace any old or damaged ropes with new, and confirm the locks and hooks are working properly.
  3. Putting your ladder up:
    The magic formula for ladder safety is 1 in 4. This means for every 4 feet of height you're going up the base of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the wall it's resting against. (This angle gives you a ladder that's easy to climb, but still vertical enough that it won't bend in the middle under your weight.
    Be sure your ladder feet are level. Use flat boards to level the base and stop it from sinking into soft ground. You can drive nails through the board or around the perimeter to prevent the board from moving. Don't try to stretch your ladder by putting it onto a box or something else to gain a little more height - that's just inviting trouble. On extension ladders always check that the upper and lower sections overlap and the locks are properly engaged on both sides. Secure the base of your ladder by tying it to a solid object like a tree or a fence (not a car or a truck), or put sandbags around the legs to prevent any slippage.
  4. Climbing your ladder:
    Climb your ladder one rung at a time. Hold onto the side rails not the rungs as you go up. Wear a tool belt or use a hand line to bring up tools and equipment. Don't climb with things in your hands. Once up your ladder, stay within your "safety zone" - this means, don't reach too far out to the side. (You're in your safety zone when your breastbone is within the width of the ladder rails. If you're climbing onto your roof, be sure the ladder extends 3 feet past the roof contact point. This will allow you to safely step off onto the roof, and more importantly get back onto the ladder safely.
  5. Moving your ladder:
    If you can't reach something and you will be reaching outside of your "safety zone", climb down and move the ladder. Never try to move a ladder even a few inches by "walking" or side stepping it while you're on it. Close a ladder before moving it, - even a closed ladder can be awkward, so don't make it worse by trying to move an extended ladder. Carry your ladder on your shoulder with the front higher than anyone who might be coming around a corner.

Some final common sense thoughts on working with your ladder

Try not to set your ladder up over a door opening outward. If you do need to, lock the door and put a sign on the inside so no will inadvertently open it. Check the bottoms of your feet before starting to climb. Grass, grease, moisture, mud or paint on the soles of your feet can all cause slips. (Here's a hint - a strip of old carpet glued to the bottom rung can serve as a quick shoe cleaner). If you are going to be working up near the eaves of your house, look for insect or bird's nests before climbing. Discovering a wasp's nest at the top of your ladder certainly wouldn't be any fun and could certainly lead to a sudden fall. Finally, always be sure someone knows where you are going to be working on your ladder. That way if anything does happen, someone will be looking for you.

Ladders get used around a house literally millions of times without any incident; however, every time someone climbs a ladder there is the potential for an accident. So, when you 're working on your ladder, take your time and be sure to keep these basic ladder tips in mind, and you shouldn't have to worry about becoming one of those emergency room statistics.

Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer with articles published in both the United States and Canada. He has written on a wide range of topics, but specializes in home maintenance and how to's.