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As the holidays approach, we all have a list of things we plan to catch up on round the house, and whether it’s cleaning the gutters, trimming a tree branch, hanging a picture or washing the windows; it’s very likely to need a ladder. Most times we just pull the ladder out of the garage and set it up, without giving a thought to ladder safety, yet statistics show that ladder accidents are the second most common cause of injury and fatalities after road crashes. A reminder of the seven most common risks most of us take on ladders, often without thinking about it, may help you avoid them and stay safe next holiday.
1. The number one cause of ladder accidents is actually choosing the wrong type of ladder in the first place. Different types of ladders are designed for different purposes, whether it’s an extension ladder for cleaning gutters or washing upstairs windows, or astepladder for changing the bulb in a ceiling light fixture. In particular, make sure you use a ladder that is tall enough for the job — large numbers of accidents are caused by using one that is too short.
2. Another very common cause of accidents, often serious, is ignoring electrical risks. Generally speaking aluminium used to be the most popular material for ladder construction. However, if you are working anywhere near electricity, you must never use a ladder made of aluminium or any other metal, as metal conducts electricity. Also, if you are working outside, remember a ladder of any type must not come anywhere near power lines. Of course, when you use a fibreglass ladder from Chief ladders, electrical shocks are a thing of the past!
3. You need to be very careful to position the ladder correctly and ensure it is stable. If indoors, make sure a stepladder is level without having part of it on a rug or mat, and if outdoors, be extremely careful not to place the ladder on bumpy or uneven ground, or on grass that is soft or muddy. If using a step ladder, check that the spreaders between the two sections are completely flat and locked into place. And you must never, ever, place a ladder on top of something else — a table, counter or box, for instance — to extend its reach. That seems obvious, but people actually do.
4. One very risky practice to avoid is climbing the ladder while carrying something. You need to have both hands free to hold on to the sides. If you have to carry tools, you must use a tool belt or hand line, or otherwise you should have someone there to hand the tools to you.
5. Never stand on the top two rungs of a stepladder, or the top three rungs of afibreglass extension ladder. If your ladder is leaning against a roofline or gutter, it must extend at least 1 metre above it. If you have to get on to a flat roof, this is the minimum amount you need to get safely off the ladder, and back on it again.
6. Beware of overreaching. It’s extremely dangerous to reach either sideways or upwards to get at something, while you are on the ladder — it can make you lose your balance, or topple the ladder. Ensure your belt buckle does not go beyond the side rails or top rung of the ladder, and keep your weight distributed evenly.
7. Last but not least, never, never try to move the ladder while you are actually standing on it, by side-stepping it or “walking” it. You may think this is common sense, but many hospital admissions are caused this way. If your next job is a bit further away, you must get off the ladder and move it while safely standing on the floor or the ground.
Ladders are such everyday items that taking them for granted can be all too easy. However, you should not forget what devastating injuries can be caused by failure to observe some very simple ladder safety rules. And remember, if you feel at all uncomfortable or nervous about using a ladder, don’t. Get a professional in instead — you will have much greater peace of mind, and so will your family.