Climbing with Care
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
With spring just around the corner, I recently began thinking about what outside work projects I need to get done around my house. As I went through my to-do list, I noticed several projects would require a ladder, such as painting the house trim and pruning some trees. I then thought back to a mishap I had several years ago when I fell from a ladder.
I was hanging Christmas lights on the house using a standard 6-foot step ladder. While attaching the last string of lights, I realized one section was slightly out of reach. Overconfident, I leaned several feet away from the ladder, even though I was already on the last useable step about 4 feet from the ground. Suddenly, my center of gravity shifted just enough for the ladder to fall.
It’s somewhat funny because in these situations, I always imagined myself being able to jump and do a dynamite parachute landing fall. Instead, I fell like a large sack of potatoes straight to the ground. I extended my right arm to break the fall, and it took the full impact of my body weight.
I immediately got to my feet and was in a great deal of pain, having broken my right wrist. My wife drove me to the local emergency room, where doctors X-rayed and stabilized the fracture until I could see a surgeon a few days later. The end result was a badly crushed wrist requiring a metal plate and four screws to repair.
A lot of pain and stress resulted from a single bad decision on a 6-foot ladder, not to mention the embarassment of telling my safety professional colleagues about the stupid mistake I made. I share this story to remind everyone that ladder safety is serious business, and poor decisions can have major consequences. With that in mind, here are a few simple ladder safety tips to remember before you start your spring work projects.
- Always choose the right ladder for the job. A ladder that’s too short could tempt you to reach from the ladder or stand on the top step to reach your objective. Both are bad decisions.
- Inspect your ladder prior to use and read warning labels. Place the ladder on a firm and dry foundation.
- If using a step ladder, make sure it is completely extended and extension arms are locked.
- If using an extension ladder, ensure the ladder is placed 1 foot away from the surface it is leaning against for every 4 feet of height.
- Always use three points of contact when on the ladder.
- Do not overreach or overextend yourself or stand on the last two steps (use them to hold onto).
- Never attempt to carry tools or materials in your hands while climbing. Use a tool belt, have someone hand you the items you need, or use a rope to pull the tools or materials to you.
- Wear nonslip shoes or boots, never sandals or flip flops.
- Never have more than one person on a ladder at a time.
- Always face the ladder rungs while climbing and working.
These tips might seem like common sense, but we sometimes find ourselves being complacent and overconfident when getting the job done. Failing to follow simple ladder safety can have a very severe outcome, so always play it safe. Good luck completing your springtime to-do list this year!