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Ladder Safety: How To Choose and Use Ladders

Next to the hammer and screwdriver, the ladder is probably the most recognized tool out there.  However, it’s also one of the most potentially dangerous!

There are a lot of questions to consider when it comes to ladders, and with such a wide variety of different kinds available, it can be difficult to know where to begin.  Once you understand how to choose the right ladder for the job and learn how to use the ladders safely, you can get the job done. Your work will be easier and more productive, too.

Which kind of ladder is right for the job?

styles of laddersDifferent styles of ladders are designed for different tasks. Using the wrong style of ladder or ignoring a ladder’s limitations can result in a fall, serious injury or even death.

Stools and step ladders should only be used for jobs that require a shorter height. Extension ladders are designed to reach higher jobs.

How high do you need to reach?

on ladder changing lightbulbOver-reaching is one of the leading causes of ladder injuries. A person’s maximum safe reaching height is approximately 4′ higher than the height of the ladder they are on. For example, a typical person can safely reach an 8-foot ceiling on a 4 foot ladder.

However, to properly calculate that height, you need to keep in mind that you should never stand above the second step from the top of a stepladder or the fourth rung from the top of an extension ladder. Extension ladders should be at least 7 to 10 feet longer than the highest support or contact point (usually the wall or roof/gutter line). This allows for proper setup and an adequate amount of overlap of the ladder sections, which keeps the ladder sturdy and secure.

This handy chart from Werner Ladders is helpful in choosing the extension ladder that is the correct height for your task.

extension ladder height chart

How much weight will be on the ladder

sticker on side of ladderLadders are designed and built to safely hold up to a specific amount of weight. To determine what any ladder has been designed for, check the label or sticker on the side of the ladder.

The terminology of Ladder Grades, Duty Ratings and Types can certainly be confusing at first. To simplify things, it’s important to understand that each ladder is given a Duty Rating. This is the maximum safe load capacity of the ladder and is described in terms of pounds.

A person’s fully clothed weight PLUS the weight of any tools and materials that are carried onto the ladder must be less than the duty rating. Type IA ladders can hold up to 300 pounds and are typically used in professional or commercial settings. Type I ladders can hold up to 250 pounds. Type II ladders can hold up to 225 pounds and Type III can hold up to 200 pounds. Type III ladders are ideal for most jobs around the house.ladder duty ratings

Will the ladder be used near or around electricity?

Metal (usually aluminum) ladders are versatile and sturdy, making them a popular choice. However, they also conduct electricity. Only use wooden or fiberglass ladders when you’re working with electricity.

Using A Ladder Safely

Setting up a ladder properly is important step is safe ladder usage.  Don’t place a ladder in front of a door that is not locked or blocked off.  Any ladder needs to be set on level ground.  If level ground isn’t possible in the area where you are working, use a ladder leveler like the PiViT® Ladder Tool that Koopman carries.

When using an extension ladder, make sure that you have the ladder’s base set up against the building’s surface and not the fly section (unlike the person in this blog’s title image above!).  Always place the base of an extension ladder on solid, level ground at a 75-degree angle.  If you are working on permeable surface like grass or dirt, jump on the lowest rung to set the ladder firmly and to test for stability.

If you are climbing onto a roof, remember to extend the ladder above the surface you are climbing onto.  If the ladder base will be resting against a gutter, slip a 2 x 4 into it to keep the gutter from being crushed by the ladder.

If you will be working on upper-story windows or your roof, invest in an adjustable ladder stabilizer. These handy devices give the ladder four total points which greatly increases stability by distributing the ladder load across a larger area. This helps to prevent ladder movement and potential slippage. A stabilizer also allows you to easily work on areas directly in front of the ladder, such as windows.

PiViT Ladder Tool

The PiViT® Ladder Tool in use

Human error often comes into play when a slip or fall from a ladder occurs. Don’t use a ladder to work on wet surfaces or during inclement weather. To stay on the ladder safely, move deliberately and slowly, stay focused and wear non-slip shoes.

Beyond these common sense safety guidelines, Werner Ladders has an extremely helpful resource entitled Do’s and Dont’s of Ladder Climbing that visually illustrates how to work safely while on a ladder.

Wrap Up

Now that you’ve thought through what kind of ladder your job requires and learned how to use it safely, you’re well on your way to finishing up those tasks that have been – literally – hanging over your head.  Stop in and see us at any one our conveniently located Koopman stores.  Our friendly and knowledgeable staff will be glad to show you the ladders and accessories that we offer and to answer any questions you have!