Did you know that March is National Ladder Safety Month? Spearheaded by the American Ladder Institute to promote ladder safety at home at work, it’s a great time to review how ladder-related accidents and injuries can be prevented with awareness of some simple precautions.
First, some statistics about ladder-related injuries and deaths:
- Each year in the U.S. there are more than 160,000 emergency room-treated injuries and 300 deaths caused by falls from ladders.
- Falls from ladders are the #1 cause of death on construction sites.
- Most ladder deaths are from falls of less than 10 feet.
- The leading causes of ladder-related injuries and deaths include falls, loss of balance, improper setup, over-reaching, miss-stepping, improper mounting/dismounting, improper ladder use, and poor ladder condition.
The following ladder safety tips can help prevent accidents and related injuries at home and at work.
Choose the right ladder.
The type of ladder you use for a job will depend on the surrounding environment.
- If you’re working around electricity, don’t use a metal ladder.
- Make sure the ladder is the appropriate length. The top cap of a step ladder should never be used as a step. An extension ladder should extend 3’ (no more, no less) above the upper support point.
- Check the Duty Rating of the ladder – the weight that it’s designed to support. To calculate the duty rating required, be sure to include the weight of the person plus the clothes, tools, and supplies being used for the job.
- Don’t use a ladder in an unintended manner. A step ladder should always be fully opened for support on all 4 legs while in use. An extension ladder should not be used as a ramp between two points or as a shelf to hold material. Don’t tie or fasten ladders together to provide longer sections unless they are specifically designed for that purpose.
Think safety before you climb.
- Be sure to wear secure-fitting footwear free of mud and other substances that may cause you to slip.
- Inspect the ladder for proper condition, including broken or cracked wooden components, corroded, bent or loose metal rungs or hardware, and missing labels (duty rating, Class).
- Confirm that the ladder, steps, and rungs are free of oil, grease, wet paint, and other slipping hazards.
- Check that the feet work properly and have slip-resistant pads. place a ladder in front of a door that is not locked, blocked, or guarded.
- Make sure you’ve placed set the ladder on a stable and even surface.
- Extension ladders should be positioned at such an angle that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder provides a 4:1 angle (the distance from the wall to the base of the ladder should be 1’ for every 4’ of height). A rough method to test this angle is by placing your toes at the base of the ladder and stretching your arm at shoulder height. Your hand should just touch the ladder.
- Check for the location of nearby power lines. Do not allow your ladder to contact any overhead wires, regardless of the type or whether they’re live, as it is not always possible to confirm their status.
- Avoid using a ladder in extremely windy conditions.
- Don’t use a ladder if you’re not fully alert and physically able.
- Accidents happen. If working alone, make sure someone else is aware you are using a ladder for the next “x” amount of time and that you’ll let them know when you’re finished.
Think safety while climbing, working on, or descending a ladder.
- Always face the ladder while climbing, working, or descending.
- Don’t climb past the fourth rung from the top on a leaning ladder, or the second rung from the top on a step ladder.
- Utilize at least three points of contact to minimize the chances of slipping and falling from the ladder. At all times during ascent or descent, the climber must face the ladder and have two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, in contact with the ladder cleats and/or side rails.
- Don’t carry objects in either hand that can interfere with a firm grip on the ladder.
- Don’t skip any rungs while climbing or descending.
- Never bounce on any rungs.
- Don’t sit on ladder rungs.
- Be careful not to pull, lean, stretch, or make any sudden moves.
- Don’t over-reach while working from a ladder.
- Don’t step on the rear section of a step ladder or the underside of an extension ladder.
Other safety considerations while using the ladder.
- Never leave a raised ladder unattended. Ladders that are not in use should be laid on the ground or put away. Children may be tempted to climb the raised ladder if it is left unattended.
- Never drop or throw a ladder, or allow it to fall, which can create a hazard for others, as well as damage the ladder.
- If the job involves leaving the ladder (i.e., onto a roof), always be conscious of the ladder’s location, in case you need to leave the roof quickly, for instance, due to a swarm of bees.
- Consider anchoring the top of the ladder with a bungee cord as a precaution to prevent the ladder from slipping sideways or being blown over in the wind while on the roof.
- Consider using a fall-arrest system if working at great heights or while performing complicated tasks.
- Always use proper protective equipment, such as a hard hat or eye protection.