How to use a ladder safely
In a recent study only six people in 100 knew the correct angle for a ladder (New Zealand). That lack of knowledge might be the reason why the greatest number of serious injuries in the home results from misuse of ladders. Make sure you are not at risk. The following is a list of ‘must dos’ when using a
Straight or extension ladders
To raise the ladder lie it on the ground with the feet against wall, with the sharper angle of the feet towards the ground. Lift the top end of the ladder and ‘walk it’ upwards by ‘walking down’ the rungs hand by hand, rung by rung. Rest the top of the ladder against the wall then lift or slide the base out to its final position.
A long ladder needs two or more people. Lay the ladder on the ground with the feet at the spot where the ladder is to stand. The heaviest person should stand at the base of the ladder and put a foot on the bottom rung. The other person (or people) should lift the top of the ladder and walk it upwards, while the heaviest person should lean forward and grasp the rungs, only to support the ladder (taking care not to pull or strain, because a back can easily be injured when strained in an arched position).
An extension ladder (two short ladders that telescope into one long one)
should have an overlap of three rungs.
The correct angle for a ladder is one unit of measurement out from the wall for every four units of height, which equates to 75 degrees at the base. So, know the height of your ladder and know how close to the wall to place it.
Secure the top and bottom of the ladder in position. Place the feet on a firm level surface. If you can’t do this, don’t use the ladder. Use commercial scaffolding instead.
To prevent the ladder from slipping outwards knock two stakes in the ground
in front of the feet, or nail a board or drop a sandbag in front of the feet. If you can’t do this, ask someone to place one foot on the bottom rung and hold a side (not a rung) with each hand.
Secure the ladder at each side, at the height of about the fifth rung, by using ropes or straps fastened to a fixed object on either side or by tying it to stakes in the ground (see Knots and their uses).
If you’re using a ladder to climb onto a roof the ladder must be long enough to extend three rungs beyond the edge of the roof.
If you’re using your stepladder as a long ladder ensure that the locks are engaged. These will be in the form of a small hook or hooks that clip from the sides of the opened ladder into holes on the ladder top (i.e. at the middle of the ladder when it is extended).
Always keep your body facing the ladder when ascending or descending. Wear solid shoes.
Keep your body centred by keeping your hips within the side rails of the ladder.
Do not carry tools or heavy weights up a ladder. Invest in a tool belt or ask someone to pass items to you. You can buy special trays which fit within the sides of the ladder to hold paint pots or tools.
Never lean out sideways while working — especially if your ladder isn’t secured well! Descend and move the ladder to the next appropriate position and re-secure it — no matter how frustrating that might be!
Do not stand above the fourth rung from the top of a straight ladder.
When you’re using a stepladder take the following precautions.
Ensure the locks are engaged. These are two arms on the sides, which extend to the other half of the ladder when it is open.
Place the four feet on a firm, level surface.
Position the ladder front-on to the work. Never work to the side of a stepladder and don’t over-reach. Move the ladder again to an appropriate position.
Keep your body centred. Wear non-slip shoes. Carry materials with extreme caution.
Do not stand on the top rung of a stepladder.
Do not put a plank across a stepladder and use it as a trestle. Stepladders are unstable in this role. Use a trestle or multi-use ladder.
Have you selected the proper ladder for the job? Just ‘making do’ can be a recipe for disaster. For any job over two or three metres high you must use the correct ladder in the correct manner or get professional scaffolders to set up the job.
Does your ladder conduct electricity? Fibreglass ladders don’t conduct electricity. Wooden ladders, when clean and dry, don’t conduct electricity. Aluminium ladders are electrically conductive so never place them near power wires.
Is the ladder sound?
Is the ladder dry and free from slippery mud, etc?
Are all the rungs secure, undamaged and straight?
Is there warping or splitting (wooden ladder)?
Is there corrosion, particularly in the bolts or rivets (metal ladder)?
Do all the locking systems work?
Are the slip-resistant rubber or plastic feet OK?