10 Tips for Navigating Ladders Successfully

By MS. RITA HESS, Staff Writer

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—otherwise known as OSHA—falls from portable ladders (step, straight, combination, and extension) are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. Sadly, these same incidents occur at home, too.

In fact, several people I know have had ladder accidents. One was sidelined for several weeks after a fall from near the top of an extension ladder (that was perched precariously on scaffolding). Another took early retirement after breaking both legs in a fall from only the second rung of a stepladder.

Ladders are obviously beneficial. They help us reach areas we need to access! So what is it that makes them so dangerous on the job and at home? I have a couple of theories, and then I will give you some solid advice from OSHA.

First, I feel it is human nature to think accidents happen only to other people. We tend to believe we are invincible or too young or too cautious or too experienced or too agile (or insert your favorite excuse here). Truth is, accidents can happen to anyone at any time of day in any season.

I also think we are a bit lazy—or maybe we just don’t think things through. After all, if I know I am going to need a can of paint, a paint roller, two sizes of brushes, a tarp, and a hammer when I climb the ladder and reach the eaves, why would I make two trips instead of carrying everything at once? Similarly, once I am 15’ off the ground, why would I climb all the way down and move the ladder over 6” if I can just lean waaaaay out there and reach that spot with the tip of my brush?

Okay, enough speculation about how we get into these predicaments. Here are some OSHA recommendations to keep you alive and well. Follow them at home and at work!

  1. Plan ahead how you will accomplish a task safely. Slow down and take your time gathering what you need to do the job right.
  2. Read and follow all manufacturer instructions, labels, markings, or warnings.
  3. Inspect the ladder before each use for defects such as loose or missing rungs, bolts, cleats, and screws. Also, make sure its surfaces are smooth to reduce the chance of injuries and snagged clothing, and make sure nothing (e.g., paint or stickers) covers defects or safety information. Remove a damaged ladder from service until it is repaired or discarded.
  4. Keep ladder rungs, steps, and feet free of slippery materials.
  5. Before starting work, survey the area for potential hazards, such as power lines. Keep all ladders at least 10 feet away from them.
  6. Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks, or hooks) for their designed purposes. For example, do not use a ladder horizontally like a platform.
  7. Maintain contact with the ladder at three points (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) when ascending or descending. Keep your body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder.
  8. Use extension ladders only on stable and level surfaces with the side rails square to the structure against which it is leaning and both footpads secure.
  9. Avoid the temptation to place a ladder on something for added height (e.g., boxes, barrels, etc.).
  10. Carry tools in a tool belt or raise and lower them using a hand line. Never carry them in your hands while climbing up or down a ladder, and never leave them on one unattended.

Finally, be a good wingman. Friends don’t let friends use ladders improperly … or something like that!