The two principal causes of ladder-related injuries are using the wrong ladder for the job and misusing or abusing climbing equipment. Knowing how to choose the right ladder for the job and how to use ladders safely can prevent accidents, injuries, lost wages, and medical expenses and can save lives.
Choosing the right ladder requires four key decisions:
- Style: Which is right for the job – stepladder, extension ladder, multi-purpose ladder or a specialty ladder designed for specific tasks?
- Size: What is the maximum height you need to reach – remembering that there are height restrictions for the highest standing level on any ladder, and considering your own height with extended arms. A person’s maximum safe reaching height is generally about 4 feet higher than the size of a stepladder. With extension ladders you must also consider the required 3-foot extension of the ladder above the roofline (when getting on and off the ladder).
- Duty Rating: This defines the performance of a ladder by the maximum safe load capacity, identified by the grade and type. A person’s weight and the tools or materials being carried on the ladder must be lower than the Duty Rating listed on the ladder. Ladders often come in five different duty ratings, from Type III, 200 lbs. for light household use to Type IAA at 375 lbs. for Special Duty rugged professional use.
- Material: Ladders are generally available in aluminum or fiberglass. Aluminum ladders are lighter than fiber-glass ladders but are highly conductive. Fiberglass is essential when working around electricity since it is nonconductive. Fiberglass is also strong, durable, and flame-resistant and holds up well if used in a hostile environment or exposed to certain chemicals.
Safe ladder use requires attention to four key areas:
- Ladder Inspection: Examine the ladder for missing, damaged or loose components. Make sure all moving parts are secured and work properly. Check spreaders, extension ladder locks, flippers and safety shoes. Never use a damaged ladder. Tag damaged ladders for repair or disposal. Repair or replace damaged parts, and destroy ladders that are no longer safe to use.
- Care and Maintenance: Keep your ladders clean by removing spills, drips, oil, paint and other slippery materials. Lightly lubricate moving parts. Store ladders firmly supported and protect them from heat, weather and corrosive materials.
- Safe Climbing Habits: Read warning labels. Failure to do so can lead to falls, injuries and even death. Use fiberglass ladders if there is even a remote possibility of working near electricity. Fully open stepladders and lock both spreaders for stability. Position ladders facing the work area, and climb facing the ladder, one step at a time, centering your body between the rails. Wear shoes with nonslip soles, and never let your belt buckle pass beyond either ladder rail. Haul materials on a line instead of carrying them up on an extension ladder, and always observe the restrictions for the highest standing level for each particular style of ladder.
- Extension Ladder Setup: Check for overhead clearance and raise the ladder only while standing on the ground. Use your foot on the bottom rung to stabilize the ladder as it is being raised, then use the rope and pulley to extend the fly section. Or lay the ladder on the ground, blocked against the building and “walk it up” hand over hand using the rungs. Use the 4-to-1 ratio to make sure the ladder is at the proper angle of 75 1/2 degrees. The setback of the feet must be 1 foot away from the building for every 4 feet of ladder height to the support point. Make sure you have 3 feet of extension above the roof edge for safe access and that both rails are fully supported with at least a 12-inch-wide area on each side of the ladder. Position the ladder feet on firm, level ground. Properly use the spur plates to dig in on penetrable surfaces, and stake or tie down the top and bottom of the ladder to prevent outward slipping. APC
Marc V. Marini is director of product management for Werner. Werner Co. further demonstrates its commitment to the professionals who rely on their climbing equipment for their livelihood with the complimentary ClimbingPro Online Training Center. It is a full suite of online climbing safety materials designed specifically for skilled professionals, providing them direct access to online training materials that help teach the proper safe climbing practices and techniques. It is also a secure, convenient way for trainers to administer the latest in ladder and pump jack safety training with real-time visibility of participation and performance. For more information about ladder safety and ClimbingPro, please visit www.wernerco.com.