Tips for Using a Ladder Safely

By: Bill Kibbel , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

In the US, more than 500,000 people a year are treated for ladder related injuries, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.  Of those injuries, about 300 people die.  I’m up on some type of a ladder almost every day so I’d like to pass along just a few tips. Since it’s gutter cleaning season, I’ll focus on the tall extension ladders.

Select the right ladder

Ladders have a duty rating from the American National Standards Institute.  This rating includes the maximum weight it’s designed to handle, which includes the user, material and tools.

Type III: light duty - up to 200 lbs
Type II: medium Duty - up to 225 lbs
Type I: Heavy Duty - up to 250 lbs
Type I-A: Extra Heavy Duty - up to 300 lbs*
Type I-AA: Special Duty - up to 375 lbs*

* If you and your load are getting close to or above 300 lbs, consider renting a lift.

Inspect Before Each Use

  • Check all bolts and rivets
  • Be sure the rungs are clean
  • Be sure the feet are secure and the rubber soles will grip
  • Check the rails and rungs for cracks or other damage
  • Check the movement and springs of the rung locks
  • Check the rope for fraying
  • Check the operation of the pulley
  • Check aluminum ladders for burrs - wood and fiberglass for splinters

Setting a Ladder

First, read the labels on the ladder.  Second, watch out for overhead electric wires.

The most frequent injuries to inspectors is from setting the ladder on slippery decks, patios or walks.  I look for level, dry, compacted soil.  If there’s mulch, I’ll scrape it away.  If your house is on a slope, install adjustable levelers at the base of your ladder.

Getting the angle of the ladder is important.  Too steep and it could tip back.  Too low of a slope and it could kick out.  The ladder should be set 1 foot out for every 4 feet in height.  With your toes touching the feet of the ladder, hold out your arms straight.  Your finger tips should just touch the rails.

Working from a Ladder

Don’t wear slippery or muddy shoes.  Use both hands while climbing or descending.  If your project involves using both hands, it shouldn’t be done from a ladder – one hand always needs to be holding on.  Always stay centered.  Don’t reach or lean to the sides.

If you need to climb onto a roof, the ladder should extend above the roof edge by at least three rungs.  Strap or clamp the ladder securely to the roof edge or gutter.  Always step on or off the roof using a rung well below the point where the ladder meets the edge.

Unless you have the right equipment, never set a ladder on a roof to get to a higher roof.  Finally, never leave a ladder up unattended.