Ladder Safety One Rung at a Time

Even the thought of climbing a ladder (unless it's the corporate ladder, of course) can be scary for some people. The potential for falls and serious injury is enough for many homeowners to leave the gutter cleaning and holiday decorating to the pros.

But if you're a do-it-yourselfer, or you have to reach a high cabinet or replace a bulb in a ceiling fixture, you're probably going to use a ladder. Just be sure to follow these ladder safety precautions. They apply whether climbing ladders at work or at home.

Choose the Right Ladder

Using the wrong ladder can be dangerous. Think about the task at hand, choose the right size and style, and be sure to follow the directions on the ladder before you climb. Some things to consider:

  • How high do you need to reach?
  • How much weight will the ladder need to hold?
  • Is it an indoor or outdoor job?

Start with a Firm Foundation

No matter what kind of ladder you're using, place the base on a firm, solid surface and avoid slippery, wet or soft surfaces.

  • If you must put the ladder on a soft surface, place a board under the ladder's feet
  • Never lean a straight or extension ladder against a window pane or other unstable surface
  • A straight or extension ladder should be placed 1 foot away from the surface it's resting on for every 4 feet of the ladder's height
  • Securely fasten straight or extension ladders to an upper support
  • Make sure step ladders are open completely before climbing
  • Guard doorways near any type of ladder so no one can open it and knock you off
  • Never place a ladder on a box, barrel or other object to gain additional height

Climb with Care

When people use ladders frequently at work or at home, they can run the risk of  becoming complacent. Make sure every time you step on a ladder you are mindful of the task at hand.

  • Face the ladder and always grip the rungs, not the side rails
  • Always keep three points of contact with the ladder: two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand
  • Never get off a ladder from the side
  • Make sure extension ladders extend 3 feet above the roof or platform you're trying to reach
  • Do not stand higher than the third rung from the top
  • Don't lean or overreach; reposition the ladder instead
  • Don't climb while carrying tools; use a tool belt
  • Wear slip-resistant shoes
  • Never have someone climb up to bring you something; only one person should be on a ladder at a time

Consider the Conditions

It may seem obvious that using a ladder during a storm is not a good idea, but we're going to mention it anyway.

  • Do not use extension ladders in windy or inclement weather
  • If bad weather arises, climb down immediately and wait for it to pass
  • Clean the ladder after each use to prevent dirt buildup, especially if it's left outside in wet or muddy conditions

You can find more ladder safety resources from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Ladder Institute.

Statistics on Falls

Falls were the leading cause of nonfatal injuries for all age groups, except for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to Injury Facts. Thousands of people are injured or killed due to falls from a ladder or scaffolding at work. Workers in the construction industry are most at risk. Of all occupational injuries, falls are the second leading cause of death next to highway crashes.

To bring greater attention to this problem, The National Safety Council supports the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in its Fall Safety Stand-Down. For more information on ladder safety at work, visit OSHA's website. The NSC Construction and Utilities Division also offers this Safety at Heights tool kit.

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