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Be careful on that ladder – tips to keep you out of the ER!

By Erin ParkerOur family has been having a real tough time with ladders this year. Earlier this summer, my brother fell off a ladder while working inside his new home in Alaska. He only fell about five feet, but he landed right on top of the ladder with his ankle stuck underneath and at last report he's still limping. Not to be outdone, my dad fell 20 feet (that's two stories) off a ladder while he was re-shingling a roof last week!   He's pretty darn lucky — he escaped with relatively minor injuries including a broken wrist, but could easily have been killed or seriously hurt. Was this unfortunate series of events a coincidence, or is there something going on here?

I did a little Googling on the Internet and found that injuries from falling off ladders are more common then most people think. In fact, getting on a ladder is probably one of the most dangerous things that you can do around the house. Falls off ladders are a leading cause of accidental home injury, and each tens of thousands of injuries related to ladders are treated in emergency rooms in the U.S.

To help you avoid joining my dad and brother in being one of these painful statistics, I have compiled the following  common-sense pointers for using a ladder:

  1. Always use a ladder that's the right type and size for the job. Don't risk using a chair, a table, stacks of books, or anything else.
  2. Make certain the weight your ladder is supporting does not exceed its maximum load rating (user plus materials). Also, there should only be one person on the ladder at one time.
  3. Use a ladder that’s the proper length for the job. Proper length is a minimum of 3 feet extending over the roofline or working surface. Never stand on the top three rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder – doing so will make you unstable and you can easily lose your balance.
  4. Don't use old, weak or damaged ladders. In my experience, these deathtraps are lurking in a lot of garages and storage sheds. Do everybody a favor and send these relics to the dump before they hurt somebody.
  5. Newer ladders have warning stickers that clearly indicate how you should (and should not) use them. For example, most ladders have a sticker indicating the highest useable step or rung you can stand on — my advice: don't ignore these stickers.
  6. Make sure that your ladder has slip-resistant feet that are clean and not damaged.
  7. Make sure the ladder has solid and level support under the legs. When outside, avoid placing the ladder on loose rocks, wet slippery grass, decks or pavement, unstable sand, uneven slopes, etc. When inside, avoid placing the ladder on slippery floors, or a rug that could slide. Bottom line, if the surface isn't solid, dry, level and stable, take the time to correct the problem before getting on the ladder. In my dad's case, the extension ladder he was using was placed on a grassy slope and the legs of the ladder suddenly slid out from underneath him when he was at the very top. He later told me he knew the slope wasn't very stable, but he didn't take the time (about a minute or so) to stabilize the legs.
  8. Set your straight or extension ladder at the right pitch. To do this, stand with your feet at the bottom of the ladder – your arms should extend out fully to reach the ladder. If the ladder is set too steeply, it’s unstable. If it’s set at too much of an angle the legs can easily slip out.
  9. Position your extension ladder solidly first – then extend it.
  10. Be sure both locks on extension ladders are properly engaged. Check this twice unless you want ot take the ride of your life.
  11. Don't carry tools in your hands – use a tool belt (to use a ladder safely, you really need both hands free).
  12. Keep your body centered on the ladder. Don't reach out sideways and extend your body beyond the side rails — get down and move the ladder over instead.
  13. Secure or have someone hold the ladder bottom. This alone would have saved both my dad and my brother from an exciting trip to the ER for stitches and x-rays.
  14. Always face the ladder when climbing up or down.
  15. Never leave a ladder unattended.
  16. Metal ladders will conduct electricity. Use a wooden or fiberglass ladder in the vicinity of power lines or electrical equipment. Do not let a ladder made from any material contact live electric wires.
  17. Don't put a ladder in front of a door that is not locked, blocked or guarded.
  18. Don’t use a ladder for any purpose other than that for which it was intended.
  19. On a stepladder, never stand on the top step, bucket shelf or attempt to climb or stand on the rear section of the ladder.

I hope that information is helpful, and will save your from a painful ladder experience. If you have any any questions, please feel free to contact me at parkerengineer@gmail.com.

  • Joe Coleman

    Thanks for the pointers! 15 and 16 are so similar, I am only giving you credit for 19 tips though. I hope your Dad and your brother heal soon.

  • Erin Parker

    Thanks for catching that, Joe!

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