It has no electrical cord, gas engine or whirling blades; yet, it’s still one of the most potentially dangerous items you have in your garage. Each year, more than 220,000 people are injured while using it. In fact, annually, it sends more people to the emergency room than lawn mowers and home workshop saws combined. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about the ladder.
The most common outcomes of ladder-related accidents vary from the “bruised ego” to fractured bones that required surgical repair and extensive rehabilitation. Injuries usually involve the head, arms and legs, and most result from people losing their balance, not because the ladder wasn't secured. Generally, people who fall from heights less than 20 feet onto a soft surface such as grass suffer the fewest injuries — typically bumps, bruises or sprains. With falls from heights beyond 20 feet, the risk of life-altering injuries increases.
Before you climb a ladder to tackle that list of projects around the house, take a few moments to review some safety tips. A little review now might keep you from becoming one of the thousands who will wind up in the emergency room following an accident.
The first step to using any ladder is to read the instructions included in the manufacturer's use and care booklet. Manufacturers' instructions contain guidelines that can help consumers use ladders more safely and effectively as well as important guidelines for weight and height limits.
Another consideration for safety is to choose the proper ladder for the intended task. For example, if the ladder will be used near electrical sources, consumers should use a wood or fiberglass ladder to reduce the possibility of electrical shock.
Before even stepping on the first rung, always make sure you thoroughly inspect the ladder. Ensure the ladder has been well maintained, the rungs are clean and all parts are intact. Never climb on a slippery or shaky ladder.
Setting up the ladder correctly may also help prevent falls. When planting the base of any ladder, place all feet on a firm, level surface, not on rocks or boards. Spreaders, the devices that hold the front and back sections of a stepladder in an open position, should be completely open and locked before any weight is placed on the ladder.
If using an extension ladder, don't place it at too extreme an angle. Remember, different ladders have different safety considerations. A good rule of thumb to follow is for every 4 feet of ladder height, the bottom of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the wall or object it is leaning against.
Finally, Underwriters Laboratories recommends consumers follow these precautions to help prevent ladder accidents:
• Always use a ladder that is long enough for the task at hand. A great number of ladder accidents are the result of using a ladder that is too short.
• Don't carry equipment while climbing a ladder. Invest in a tool belt or have someone hand the equipment to you.
• Face the ladder when climbing up and down.
• While on the ladder, don’t overextend your reach. Make sure you keep your body centered between both side rails and your weight evenly distributed.
• Never move a ladder while standing on it. Always make sure people and equipment are off the ladder before moving or closing it.
• Never stand on a ladder's bucket shelf. Read and follow the warning stickers for the highest standing levels.
Don’t be another statistic. Take the time to observe these precautions and exercise safe ladder use. It may just prevent you from shouting, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
Did You Know?
Human error is by far the leading cause of ladder accidents. Never use a ladder in any way other than what it is intended for and follow the manufacturer’s provided instructions in the operator’s manual. Also, remember to never lengthen or alter a ladder in any way.