Almost every home in the United States has one, and chances are you have used one personally either at work or at home. From changing out a lightbulb to getting on top of a roof, ladders are a common piece of equipment used in almost every home or building and appear to be harmless – and yet according to Injury Facts, thousands of people are killed due to falls from a ladder or scaffolding work. In fact, falls are the second leading cause of death next to highway crashes.
Understanding the different types of ladders as well as safe ladder practices are key to preventing falls and other potential injuries.
Here are some helpful tips to always keep in mind when using a ladder:
- Read and follow all labels/markings on the ladder.
- Avoid electrical hazards! – Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.
- Always inspect the ladder prior to using it. If the ladder is damaged, it must be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.
- Always maintain a 3-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing. Keep your body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder while climbing (see diagram).
- Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks or hooks) for their designed purposes.
- Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet.
- Do not use a self-supporting ladder (e.g., step ladder) as a single ladder or in a partially closed position.
- Do not use the top step/rung of a ladder as a step/rung unless it was designed for that purpose.
- Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface, unless it has been secured (top or bottom) to prevent displacement.
- Do not place a ladder on boxes, barrels or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.
- Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
- An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend at least 3 feet above the point of support (see diagram). Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder.
- The proper angle for setting up a ladder is to place its base a quarter of the working length of the ladder from the wall or other vertical surface (see diagram).
- A ladder placed in any location where it can be displaced by other work activities must be secured to prevent displacement or a barricade must be erected to keep traffic away from the ladder.
- Be sure that all locks on an extension ladder are properly engaged.
- Do not exceed the maximum load rating of a ladder. Be aware of the ladder's load rating and of the weight it is supporting, including the weight of any tools or equipment.
While some of these dos and don'ts may seem obvious, it's important to keep things in perspective. According to National Ladder Safety Month, every year over 100 people die in ladder-related accidents, and thousands suffer disabling injuries.
While falls from ladders are a growing concern, it's also reassuring and important to remember that ladder-related injuries and fatalities are completely preventable.
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