Whether you work with ladders on a daily basis or just occasionally around the house, you need to know how to use them properly. Here are some basic guidelines for using ladders safely. For more information, visit the American Ladder Institute.
Read the Label
The label that comes with your ladder has a lot of important information printed on it, including the maximum weight capacity, whether or not the top rungs of the ladder are safe for standing, how to properly lock the ladder in place, and other important safety warnings.
Always read and understand the label before using your ladder, and review it periodically in case you forget important points about locking the ladder or the weight limit. Remember, the maximum weight capacity includes any tools or equipment you carry up the ladder with you. So, if the ladder has a maximum weight of 250 lbs. and you weigh 225, you can't carry more than 25 lbs. of tools and equipment up the ladder with you.
Inspect the Ladder
The rungs of the ladder and the latching mechanisms are the most common points of failure. Check that each rung is secure and that all the latching mechanisms work properly before stepping onto the ladder. Also, look for slippery substances, such as oil or grease, that could cause you to slip off while working.
Maintain three points of contact at all times while working on a ladder. This means you need to have at least two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot on the ladder at all times. Never use accessories (levels, jacks, or hooks), unless they are specifically designed for the ladder you're using.
If the ladder is designed to be self-supporting (in other words, it folds out to stand on its own), never use it in the propped or partially closed state. Self-supporting ladders are not designed to be used as singles.
Inspect the Surroundings
Before lifting the ladder into place, check above the area for power lines and other potential hazards. Also, check the ground below for levelness, slippery substances and other potential hazards. If the ladder is in an area where it could get knocked down (by forklifts, children playing, vehicles, etc.), secure it before climbing up.
Avoid using the top rung of a ladder unless it is specifically designed to do so. Some ladders' top rungs are designed only to temporarily place tools, paint cans, etc., and are not rated for a human to stand on. Never place a ladder on a box, barrel, or other unstable surface to work. If the ladder needs to be moved for any reason, climb down before allowing anyone to reposition it.
Position the Ladder Correctly
Set the base of the ladder about 1/2 of the working length of the ladder from the resting surface (such as the wall). If you're using an extension or straight ladder, leave at least three feet of the end of the ladder sticking above the point of support.
Always use all of the locking mechanisms that come with your ladder. If the label is missing or damaged, contact the manufacturer to check for weight limits and other safety warnings. Follow these tips and you'll stay safe!