Using a Ladder Safely this Summer

If you plan on inspecting the roof, cleaning the gutters, trimming trees, painting the garage, or washing the siding, chances are you will need a ladder. While power tools might seem more dangerous than ladders, the reality is a fall from even just three rungs off the ground can result in sprains and other injuries that will need medical attention. Using a ladder safely this summer to access your home’s exterior is pretty straightforward when you’re aware of the risks.

Before Buying a New Ladder

If you need to buy one, it can be easy to think “A ladder’s a ladder.” Being safe when using a ladder starts with the ladder itself. Here are some things to consider before buying a new ladder.

Ladder types: The two types of ladders that a homeowner will use for maintenance around the house are straight ladders and step ladders. Know what you will be mainly using the ladder for. For example, if you have a two-story house, you will need an extension ladder (a straight ladder with one or more sections). To prevent overreaching, the ladder you select should be the right height for what you’ll be using it for.

Ladder material: Wood ladders tend to be the least expensive than ladders made from other types of materials. But they are prone to warping which can make them unstable. Metal ladders are lightweight and all-purpose. However, they should not be used near power lines or when working with wiring. A fiberglass ladder is lightweight and can be safely used around power lines.

Ladder capacity: When selecting a ladder for its maximum load capacity factor in your weight plus the weight of heavy items such as bundles of roofing shingles or siding panels.

Ladder specifications: Also take into consideration any special features you might need when using your ladder. Slip resistance strips, storage options, and accessories such as a standoff (attachment to hold the ladder away from the wall or aluminum gutters) or a stabilizer (attachment to increase the ladder’s stability) are designed to make the ladder more functional in specific situations.

Guidelines for General Ladder Safety

Before using the ladder, inspect it for any damage (warping, rust, heat, or chemical) to the side rails and/or rungs; oil spills or other substances that could cause slipping; and missing parts.

Read the manufacturer’s label/manual information and follow any special user instructions.

If the ladder is too heavy for you to carry on your own, get help or use a dolly/cart.

Set the ladder up on a stable, even surface.

Keep family members and pets away from the ladder when working on it.

Only one person should be on the ladder unless the ladder is actually intended for multiple users.

Always face the ladder when climbing and remember the three-point contact rule – two hands and one foot. Climb only one rung at a time.

Never climb a ladder in open-toed shoes or shoes that don’t have non-slip soles.

When working on the ladder, never overreach – if you can’t make contact within an arm’s length from the ladder’s centre point, move the ladder.

When finished with the ladder, ensure it is stored properly to prevent damage and accidents if someone bumps into it or trips across it. It should be placed flat against a wall or ceiling or on its edge. If stored vertically, the ladder should be firmly secured.

Safety Tips for Step Ladders

Ensure the step ladder is fully opened and then locked into place before using it.

Never use a step ladder like an extension ladder (leaning instead of opening). The ladder could shift or slide out from under you when you’re working on it. The stability of a step ladder depends on it being opened into the “A” position.

Never stand on the top two steps.

Safety Tips for Extension Ladders

The ladder should be placed against a surface that supports both side rails. For example, you shouldn’t place the right side against the window trim and the left side on an exterior wall.

To determine the right distant the ladder should be placed against a wall or object, divide the height of the ladder by four.

When accessing the roof, the ladder should extend a minimum of three rungs above the roofline.

When using an extension ladder with one or more sections, ensure the locks are properly engaged.

If it seems like the ladder could slip or shift when working on it with power tools, for example, or when your project requires more active movement than standing stationary, tie-off the ladder at the top and bottom if there will be no one to hold the ladder steady at its base.