Whether you’re changing a lightbulb or painting a staircase, chances are you’ll be using a ladder. Using a ladder might be simple, but staying safe is the higher priority. With that in mind, here’s our guide to using a ladder safely.
Inspect Your Surroundings
Before you can begin using a ladder in earnest, you’ve got to make sure you’re using it in as safe an environment as possible. This means ensuring the ladder is on solid, level ground and not on a movable object like a platform or a pallet. You should also make sure the ground is as clean and free of loose material as possible.
If the ground is uneven, soft, or slippery, you may need to use rubber safety mats underneath the ladder feet to improve stability. Working outdoors means you will need to be aware of the weather – wind and rain can make working conditions extremely unsafe.
For work in a stairwell, where the ground is inherently not level, try to ensure you use a ladder that can adapt, such as a stairwell ladder or a combination ladder.
Choose the Right Ladder
Whatever the task in front of you involves, you need the right equipment. This goes for the tools you use, the clothes you might need to wear, and it definitely goes for a ladder if you use one.
Using the wrong ladder greatly increases your risk of injury or worse, so choosing the right ladder is the best start. If you’re trimming a hedge, you will probably be better off with a stepladder or combination ladder rather than trying to lean an extension ladder against the hedge. For changing a lightbulb, you may only need small steps, while painting on and around your stairs may require a combination ladder.
Inspect Your Ladder
It’s a good idea to inspect your ladder when you use it. This is especially true if you don’t use it frequently: a visual inspection at the point of use will tell you whether the ladder is safe. If you use a ladder as part of your job, or more than once a week, it’s best to inspect it thoroughly two to four times a year.
A thorough ladder inspection should include checking that the stiles, rungs, and feet are not worn or damaged, and that the locking mechanism (if the ladder has one) works properly. These are the most important parts of a ladder, so it’s best to make sure they are in good working order!
Secure the Ladder
Once you’ve set the ladder up, make sure it’s secure. If you’re using a ladder that has a locking mechanism, make sure it’s fully engaged and firmly locked – if it fails, you could suffer an injury or worse.
You should secure leaning ladders by tying or hooking them in place – some types of roof ladder have hooks that fit over a roof ridge, for example, while the tops of other leaning ladders can easily be tied to a pole.
Your ladder should also be set up in a strong and stable position. If it’s a leaning ladder, you’ll need to use the 1 in 4 rule, in which for every four units up the bottom feet of the ladder should be positioned one unit away from the wall. That is, if your task is at a height of 4m, the bottom of the ladder should be positioned 1m away from the wall, bringing the top of the ladder to rest at a 75-degree angle.
Once your ladder is fully and safely erected, it’s time to use it. No matter what your task is, the most important thing is to use the ladder carefully. Rushing up and down is a surefire way to get yourself injured, or worse.
You should maintain three points of contact with the ladder as far as possible. Ideally this would be one hand and both feet, but your chest or knees can suffice if you have to use both hands for your task. A tool belt will help with this if you are carrying equipment up and down the ladder.
Make sure the ladder is positioned such that you face your task straight on, so that when you are standing on the ladder, you can keep your body and centre of gravity in between the side rails. Don’t overreach – this can unbalance you and the ladder, leading to a fall. Repositioning the ladder as needed is a much wiser and safer idea.
Make sure you’re dressed appropriately for the task at hand: you might need to wear protective clothing, and you should always use sturdy footwear on a ladder.
We hope this blog has shown you the importance of ladder safety: Ladders are an incredibly useful piece of equipment, so long as you use them safely.