Avoid Ladder Accidents: How to Safely Choose, Use, Move and Maintain Your Ladders

We rarely think about ladder accidents. But falling from a ladder can cause serious injuries, so knowing how to use them safely is important.

Ladder safety

To carry a ladder safely, carry it at the midpoint over one shoulder, with the front end slightly elevated.


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If you want to pick fruit, trim branches, paint a ceiling, build a pergola, hang a birdhouse, put up an awning or do any of the thousand tasks that require you to be taller than you really are, a ladder is the best tool — much safer than standing on a chair or a barrel. The trick is to avoid ladder accidents. People have used ladders for years, and they’ve been falling off them for just as long.

According to the U.S. Product Safety Commission, more than 160,000 Americans go to the emergency room annually as a result of ladder accidents. And there’s no way to know how many less serious injuries occur and go unreported, but a good guess would be exponentially more. Ladder safety is a big issue, and falling from a ladder isn’t the only concern. If you accidentally touch a power line with a metal ladder (or any wet ladder) and you risk electrocution.

Setting Up a Ladder

All ladders should have four solid points of contact with the ground (with the exception of three-legged fruit picking ladders, which should only be used for picking fruit). Make sure the feet of the ladder are resting on a smooth, level and dry surface. If the ladder has safety locks on the feet, be sure they’re engaged. If possible, drive stakes into the ground adjacent to the feet and tie the ladder securely to them. An extension ladder used for access to a roof should extend about 3 feet past the eaves, so you have something to hold onto while going up or down.

Fully extend and lock both side braces on stepladders. Stand first on the bottom tread, grasp the side rails and shake the ladder to make sure it doesn’t wobble. If it does, reposition it until it’s properly situated.

Other Basic Safety Rules

Each time before using a ladder, inspect it for cracks or structural damage — especially after long storage or if it has ever fallen over. Take your time; those extra 60 seconds might save your life. If you find any problems, repair or replace the ladder.

Always look up before you raise a ladder, to check for power lines or obstacles. Climb facing the treads and in the center of the ladder — between the side rails. Use both hands to climb — in many situations, the climber was carrying materials in one hand before falling.

When working on roofs, use a rope to haul up materials rather than carrying them in your hands. Wear shoes (not sandals) with non-slip soles. Never climb a closed stepladder that is leaning against a wall; it wasn’t designed for that. Don’t stand or sit on the top of a stepladder, the pail shelf or on the top three rungs of an extension ladder. Don’t climb an extension ladder when you’re alone. In case of mishap, you’ll need someone else to call an ambulance. Finally, don’t use any ladder if you are physically or mentally impaired in any way, or if you weigh more than the rated load-carrying capacity.

Choosing a Ladder

Ladders are made of wood, aluminum or fiberglass (safest around power lines, but heavy and the most expensive). Examine your needs and budget before you buy, but err on the side of caution. It isn’t wise to save money on this important purchase. Be especially wary of secondhand ladders. Ladders are really disposable tools with a limited life. A friend once bought an old, painted wooden ladder for $10, not realizing the paint concealed hairline cracks in the treads and rails. When it broke, his hospital bill easily would have paid for 20 new ladders.

There are five categories of ladders, rated by maximum load capacity (climber plus equipment): Type III, for infrequent household use, will support 200 pounds; Type II, commercial use, 225 pounds; Type I, industrial, 250 pounds; Type IA, professional grade, 300 pounds; and Type IAA, 375 pounds. Because I weigh 200 pounds, I use only Type IA or IAA, for an extra margin of safety.

Transporting Ladders

Just moving a ladder can be hazardous to your health. Stepladders should always be folded, and extension ladders reduced to their shortest length before you move them. Keep your fingers well away from moving or sliding parts. Two people should carry long or heavy ladders, but if you decide to do it alone, be careful going around corners because the swinging ends can cause property damage or inflict injuries. Carry the ladder over one shoulder at the midpoint, with the front end slightly elevated. Although it might seem clever, carrying it on both shoulders with your head between the rungs is just begging for a neck injury.

When moving a ladder on a vehicle, such as a pickup truck, make sure the end near the cab is weighted down, and the other end securely tied down. If one end hangs over the tailgate by more than 4 feet, tie a red flag to it.

Maintaining and Storing Ladders

Wooden ladders should be coated with boiled linseed oil every year. Check them for splinters at the same time. If you find any, sand them smooth. Check all braces, rivets and joints on any type of ladder. The moving parts and pulleys on metal and fiberglass ladders need occasional oiling. And don’t forget to check the rope on extension ladders for wear or rot, because if a rope breaks while you’re raising the top section of the ladder, it can collapse faster than you can move away.

Hang ladders horizontally by hooks or racks, with one at the midpoint to prevent sagging. Keep the ladder away from heat sources, which can weaken it over time. Indoor storage is best to extend the ladder’s life.

Do you have more ladder safety tips or accidently gained wisdom to share? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.
2/12/2014 2:29:27 AM

People use the ladder in the home for variety type of use and sometimes they face the accident. In the ladder accident it creates problem in the leg or hand so at the time of work with the ladder always check the ladder condition and how to use the ladder then you can avoid the http://www.virginiasinjurylawyers.com/.

2/26/2010 6:23:11 PM

I'm using one of those hand-me-down ladders. After having my full price ladder stolen from the back shed several years ago it was annoying to think of buying another. It's wobbly and I abuse its clearly frail aluminum frame with hopes that it will hang in there another day. Safety check noted! Headed to the hardware store before my next attempt to seek higher ground.

geoff taylor
2/24/2010 9:56:05 PM

Call me silly, but I'd like to have the National Guard, Mighty Mouse, and the Lone Ranger nearby whenever I climb any ladder. This is not due to acrophobia, which I found out the day I jumped out of an airplane. It is due to my fear of having this epitaph on my gravestone: Here lies a dummy Of infinite optimism, He climbed the wrong ladder And his spine? The fall popped hiz'n; But he had his cell phone, And gave thanks to the stars; And dialed for an ambulance, But no XXXXXX bars. AND ON THE BACK SIDE: As night fell he lay there In the rain and the fog; Wishing he'd memorized Geoff Taylor's blog. Wait a minute -- here lies he! Draw rein, draw breath! Had he followed his own advice, And not made a single exception ever, He would not have met with his untimely demise And his shade advises you to do likewise ...

gale green
2/24/2010 12:01:12 PM

In the section on the first page where you talk about Other Safety Issues--there is this sentence: "Don’t climb an extension ladder when you’re alone. In case of mishap, you’ll need someone else to call an ambulance." I live alone, do a lot of projects including ones which include ladders. I know there are associated risks--however, even when I do something as mundane as going out to feed the chickens, I make sure my cell phone is in my pocket. And especially when doing more dangerous stuff, like climbing ladders, I make sure to have my cell phone with me. At least I have it near at hand should an accident occur--of course, I'd have to be conscious to use it! But, it's bettern' nuttin' !!