Ladder Safety Can Be An Uplifting Experience

This fall, rise to the top without hitting the bottom

In my career in construction and home improvement, I've fallen off a ladder several times. If you've never had the displeasure, allow me to set the stage for you: not fun. At all.

Unfortunately, I am not alone, as the American Ladder Institute reports that each year, more than 300 deaths and 130,000 injuries will result from ladder usage. As a homeowner, climbing up a ladder is one of the riskiest things you can do, and the fall season marks the riskiest time of all, as homeowners add "cleaning leaves out of the gutters" and "hanging holiday decorations" to their list of weekend chores.

Part of the problem is that we take little time or care to make sure we're safe as we haul ourselves skyward. With extension ladders, we think nothing of using old rickety units that were handed down to us from our parents, broken rungs and all. And with stepladders, we practically make a habit of perching on that step they tell us not to stand on, typically because we're too lazy to get a ladder sized correctly for the job.

It's time to put this foolishness to an end. Here are a few ladder do's and don'ts:

  • DO position extension ladders correctly. For stability, a ladder has to be planted with its feet one-quarter of its extended length away from the house. This is not as tricky to calculate as it sounds: If it's a 12-foot ladder, that means it has to be positioned 3 feet from the house. For a 16-foot ladder, make it 4 feet. There is also a sticker on the side of ladders that illustrates the angle that the ladder should be placed. It looks like a capital "L," with the bottom of the "L" parallel to the ground.
  • DON'T carry an extension ladder upright as you move it. This is a maneuver best saved for the clowns at the circus. You could easily lose control of it in this position, smashing windows and gutters along the way, and knocking into power lines. Instead, lower it and carry it parallel to the ground.
  • DO make sure the ladder is positioned on a level surface. DON'T try to use rocks or bricks to prop up one side of it, figure these will fail just as soon as you reach the top.
  • DON'T ever work on ladders alone. A helper can keep you from making stupid mistakes, such as having the ladder fall down while you're stuck up alone on the roof (I speak from experience).

If there's one guiding principle with respect to ladders, it's this: If you feel squeamish, don't go up. Period. Perhaps this tip should have been closer to the top, as it's perhaps one of the most important safety pieces I can think of. Confidence working on a ladder comes from knowledge of the proper safety procedures and experience exercising that knowledge properly. Well, that and not falling off of one.

Heed my advice and avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital. Although I can't be there to hold the ladder for you, I'd like to be the little voice in your head reminding you "that's a bad idea." For questions and additional help, email me at asklou@acehardware.com.

Take care,

-Lou

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