Homeowner's Guide to Ladder Safety
You don’t need me to remind you that climbing ladders is potentially dangerous, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do: According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 165,000 Americans require medical treatment for ladder-related injuries each year. And a 16-year study, commencing in 1990 and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that 97% of ladder accidents happened at home, 10% resulted in hospital stays, and—not surprising—77% of victims were men. So, with those sobering stats revealed, I’d like to share with you some important safety tips to keep in mind when using stepladders and extension ladders. Following this advice might just keep you from becoming a CPSC statistic.
Stepladders come in several sizes ranging from 3 feet to 20 feet tall. The three most popular sizes used by homeowners are 4 feet, 6 feet and 8 feet tall. But regardless of the ladder size, the following safety rules apply:
When opening a stepladder, confirm that the two hinged metal braces, called spreaders, are securely locked down and straight.
Never set a stepladder on uneven ground. Each of the four feet must make firm contact with the ground or floor.
Tempting as it may be, never sit or stand on the very top step of the ladder. In fact, ladder manufacturers—and emergency room doctors—recommend never standing above the third highest step.
Only climb up the front of the ladder, never the back side. And don’t allow more than one person at a time on a stepladder.
When working from a stepladder, keep your hips within the two vertical rails. Reaching too far to the left or right could cause the ladder to toppled over.
Remove all tools and materials from the ladder before moving it.
It’s a very common practice to lean a closed stepladder up against a wall and then climb it. However, according to ladder manufacturers, that’s not an approved use of a stepladder because it can easily slide out from under you.
Don’t leave stepladders unattended. When you’re done working or if you take an extended break, close the ladder and put it away, or at least lay it down.
Extension Ladder Precautions
An extension ladder provides the easiest, most convenient way to reach high areas around your home, but with greater heights come greater chances for more serious injuries. Here are several important safety rules for using extension ladders:
To extend the ladder, first lay it on the ground with its feet braced against the house. Then raise the top end of the ladder and walk it upright hand over hand. Once the ladder is nearly vertical, grab a rung at about thigh high, lift the ladder slightly and walk its base back away from the house.
Once in position, grab the rope and raise the telescopic section of the ladder, known as the “fly” to the desired height. Be sure that both rung hooks lock securely onto a rung, then tie off the end of the rope to a lower rung.
To set up the proper ladder angle, use a 1:4 ratio: Divide the ladder height by four, and then move the ladder base one quarter the height from the house. For example, if the ladder is 16 feet tall, its base should be 4 feet away from the house.
Both ladder feet should sit firmly on the ground. If one foot doesn’t make contact, don’t stack blocks of wood beneath it. Instead, dig some dirt out from beneath the other foot.
Never stand an extension ladder on wet, muddy, icy or snow-covered surfaces.
Don’t stand higher than the fourth rung from the top.
Never set up a ladder anywhere near electrical power lines.
Always face the ladder when ascending and descending. And use both hands to grab the rungs, not the rails.
If necessary, wear a tool belt or holster to carry tools and supplies. That way, you’ll have both hands free when climbing up and down the ladder.
As with a stepladder, keep your hips within the vertical side rails. Don’t overreach to the left or right.
Finally although I don’t recommend climbing onto roofs, if you must, be sure the top of the ladder extends 3 feet above the point of contact. When you reach the edge of the roof, grab the top of the rails with both hands, then carefully step around the ladder.
Ladder Ratings Every stepladder and extension ladder carries a rating based on how much weight it can support. The rating system is divided into different “types” of ladders. For example:
Type III ladders are designated for light-duty household use and can support 200 pounds.
Type II ladders are rated for medium-duty commercial use and can hold 225 pounds.
Type I ladders are rated for heavy-duty industrial use and have a 250-pound weight capacity.
Type IA ladders are intended for extra-heavy-duty industrial use and can support up to 300 pounds.
And finally there’s the Type IAA ladder, which is considered a special-duty professional ladder that’s capable of holding 375 pounds.
Note that all weight capacities represent the total weight on the ladder, including the person, tools and materials.