Climbing up the Ladder: 5 Tips for Improving Ladder Safety
It’s one of the most basic and commonly used pieces of equipment for both homeowners and companies alike. Without them, activities such as changing a lightbulb, hanging up decorations, or painting the side of a house would be virtually impossible, if not, extremely difficult.
But, as simple as their basic functions appear to be — helping extend one’s reach — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ranks ladders as one of the top 10 most cited violations in the workplace, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating more than 100 ladder injuries per day ― and more than 100 deaths per year.1
Following basic ladder safety techniques, along with choosing the right type and sized ladder for the job, can help make the difference between productivity and potentially preventable accidents and falls:
1. Perform Regular, Thorough Inspections
Whether you’ve owned it for years or it’s a brand-new purchase, inspecting a ladder before each and every use is one of the most important precautionary measures you can take. Of course, you’ll want to look out for obvious dangers, such as a ladder that sways or leans to one side, or has loose or missing parts. But you’ll also want to keep a close watch for less obvious signs of degradation that might go unnoticed over time (until they become much larger, more visible issues), such as: bends, cracks, dents, or distortion.
2. Check Your Environment
Placing a ladder on unstable ground is simply asking for trouble. Likewise, a ladder that’s placed in front of a closed, unlocked door that can open at any moment has danger written all over it. Safe ladder use means finding a suitable location to set up shop; one that is free of trash, spills, and any obstructions near or around the base or top of the ladder.
Note: if you must place a ladder near a doorway, make sure the doors are locked, guarded, and/or blocked from being opened.
3. Don’t Overlook Size or Weight
Before climbing up a ladder, take a look at its Duty Rating. You’ll want to confirm that the total weight exceeds that of yourself (or the weight of the climber), plus any tools, supplies, and objects placed on its rungs or steps. Ladders that are too long or too short for the job or task at hand increase the risk for accidents or injuries to occur. Make sure the length is sufficient enough to avoid standing on the top rung or step of the ladder.
4. Practice Safe Techniques
According to the American Ladder Institute (ALI), it’s important to always face the ladder when climbing up or down, taking slow, deliberate steps to avoid any sudden movements. Utilizing the three points of contact will also help keep your balance stable and reduce the chance of accidental slips or falls. This means having two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, in contact with the ladder’s steps, rungs, and/or side rails at all times. Other safety guidelines include:
- Thoroughly reading the safety information labels on the ladder before use
- Refraining from ladder use when feeling tired, dizzy, unwell, or generally unbalanced
- Keeping your center of gravity (think: stomach or belt buckle) between the ladder’s side rails
- Allowing only one person on the ladder at a time, unless the ladder is specifically designed for more than one climber
- Avoiding risky behaviors such as overreaching or leaning
5. Do Your Part
Each March, the ALI celebrates National Ladder Safety Month, an initiative designed to educate the general public on basic ladder safety and use, with the ultimate goal of reducing ladder-related injuries and fatalities each year. But ladder safety isn’t just a once a year commitment. Whether you’re overseeing a team at a construction site or training family members at home, it’s important to make ladder safety a priority all year long.
Encourage awareness by registering for free online safety training sessions, such as those provided by the ALI. These sessions offer quick training modules — less than 25-minutes in length — that cover the common ladder varieties, including step, articulated, and extension ladders, with a quiz at the end of each to assess knowledge retention.
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1. “Occupational Ladder Fall Injuries” - United States, 2011, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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