A tool that most of us associate with construction work, but most of us actually have in our own garages and sheds, is a ladder. It’s a fairly simple device that helps us change the light bulbs in the living room ceiling light, put a new coat of paint in the bedroom, or put a new net on our kid’s basketball goal. But, did you know that ladders can be one of the most hazardous tools we have? According to the World Health Organization, the United States leads the world in ladder fatalities. Ladders cause over 164,000 emergency room visits resulting in over 300 deaths each year. Most of the fatal falls from ladders are from heights less than 10 feet. Over the past decade, the number of injuries has tripled.
There are a few things we can do to help prevent these fatal injuries:
- Always read and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Remember, not all ladders are made the same.
- Make sure you are choosing the right ladder for the job. For instance, you never want to use an aluminum ladder when working with or around electrical equipment. Choose a non-conductive, fiberglass ladder, and always inspect your ladder for any broken or loose parts and wet or muddy steps.
Step ladders or “A-frame” ladders are to be opened up to show the shape of an “A.” Always make sure that all 4 feet are sitting firmly and evenly on a good solid base and the spreader arms are locked in place. When climbing a step ladder, NEVER stand on the top 2 steps of the ladder. This will cause the ladder to become unstable and fall over.
When setting up an extension ladder, use what is called the “4 to 1 rule.” For every 4 feet of vertical rise, the feet of the ladder should be out 1 foot. Another simple way is to stand in front of the ladder with your feet next to the feet of the ladder. Extend your arms straight out and grasp the ladder uprights. If your arms are bent or you cannot reach the uprights, the ladder needs to be adjusted. Keep in mind, the feet of extension ladders also need to be on a good solid base.
When climbing a ladder, always face the ladder using 3 points of contact. Never attempt to carry items such as hammers or other tools. Use a tool belt or other means of bringing the tools up to you.
If you are using an extension ladder to gain access to a platform or roof, always make sure the ladder extends a minimum of 3 feet above your landing surface. Not only is this an OSHA requirement, but it gives you something to grasp as you are getting off and on the ladder.
Many of the injuries that occur each year can be prevented if we just take a few minutes to educate ourselves on not only the proper use of ladders, but also on the hazards associated with performing certain tasks. Even the most minor tasks at our home can be some of the most dangerous.
Loss Control Representative