Climbing to Safety: A Guide to Safe Ladder Operation

Steps you should be taking to ensure you're safe using a ladder for home exterior projects.

Did you know, each year in the United States, 300 deaths and more than 160,000 injuries requiring emergency treatment are caused by ladder-related accidents? Additionally, falls on ladders are the leading cause of death on construction sites. Injuries can span anywhere from broken bones to head injuries, so practicing ladder safety is just good sense. Are you planning some gutter cleaning, holiday decorating, or any other projects requiring a little extra height? Here is a simple guide to follow before your next home project.

The 3-point Rule: When on a ladder, you should maintain 3 points of contact at all times: both hands, and one foot, or both feet and a hand. In some circumstances, your knees can be an appropriate extra point of contact (but do so cautiously). Often, while moving quickly, it’s easy to go down to 2 points of contact mistakenly, so being mindful of the 3-Point Rule at all times dramatically reduces the risk of injury. Remember, only break your 3 point contact once you’ve reached the ground, floor, or stable platform.

Stay Centered and Stable: Climb on the center of the steps and keep your center of gravity between the rails. Avoid leaning to either side, overreaching, and never stand on the top cap of the ladder! It may seem obvious, but if you’re not feeling centered and stable on the ground, it’s not a safe time to operate a ladder. Using ladders under the influence is never a good idea.

Face the Ladder: Always keep the front of your body facing the ladder while ascending or descending. A common misconception in ladder operation is that climbing up is the most dangerous. Remember climbing down is just as risky, and you should use caution no matter which direction you’re heading. A common ladder injury is missing the bottom step while descending, so exercise caution while climbing down and dismounting. Make sure that the ladder is firmly in place at the top before climbing, and place both hands on the ladder’s rungs firmly before placing your feet. Always keep both feet on the ladder while standing on it; if you need to lift your foot to maintain balance, you’re not using it safely. Secure the ladder at the top and bottom to prevent any movement while in use. Finally, do not straddle the space between the ladder and another object!

The 4-to-1 rule: Keep the ladder’s base one foot away from the building for every 4 feet of height from where the ladder rests against the establishment. Did you know, there’s a phone app to make sure you’re using the appropriate angle? The NIOSH Ladder Safety app has an inclination indicator to make sure you’re setting your extension ladder at the proper 75.5 degrees! It’s also important to note that not all ladders are leaning ladders. On job sites leaning ladders are an OSHA violation. If you’re using a leaning ladder in your home, make sure it’s engineered for that purpose.

Right Tool for the Job: Make sure you are choosing an appropriate ladder for the project. Don’t carry your tools while climbing – wear a tool belt, use a tool tray, utilize a hoist line or gin wheel to access necessary tools. Wear the proper shoes, clothing, and protective equipment before operating to minimize slips, snags, and falls. Taking the extra time to do things the right way minimizes risk and keeps you safe; it’s worth the extra minute!

Inspect Before You Climb: Always check the ladder is stable and in good condition. Clean any mud, snow, or anything slippery off your shoes and the ladder before attempting to climb. Remember to check the surroundings where you’re working. Factors like weather, ice, gravel, traffic, power lines, bushes, gutters, and more can all cause hazards that can lead to injury if not careful. If conditions aren’t suitable for ladder operation, consider rescheduling your project.

Adhere to the Weight Rating: Check the weight rating and follow the guidelines. Remember, it’s not just your weight on the ladder; it’s your tools and materials as well. There are some misconceptions around ladder safety; the first is that a heavier ladder means a safer ladder.

Remember, weight does not determine stability! Advancements in ladder technology have evolved to be safe and durable while weighing a fraction of the older models. Additionally, rail thickness doesn’t signify increased security. A thinner/smaller rail or ladder can still be high-quality and safe. By sticking to these safety rules, using good sense, and following the manufacturer’s guidelines, you’ll be well equipped to complete your home projects regardless of height, safe and sound! If you’re still unsure if you can safely complete your project, consult a professional or ask for help. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding ladder safety, call your trusted local Minnesota roofing contractors at Refresh Exteriors! We practice responsible safety protocols and measures in everything we do. If your project is roofing repair or installation, gutter maintenance, or other roofing projects, skip the ladder altogether; we’re here to help with all your roofing and gutter needs!

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