How to Safely Use and Maintain a Ladder

Ladder injuries account for about 100,000 injuries each year. With these kinds of numbers, you would think Americans that have ladders would treat them as carefully as they do a skill saw or a chain saw. But, most people don’t consider a ladder a dangerous tool. Professionals take care of their tools because they know it is important for them to be in perfect shape to lower the risk of injury. A ladder is no different.


Cleaning Tips

At least once a year, every ladder should be cleaned and inspected for wear and tear that may affect the safety of it. Inspect the feet, latching mechanisms, and each step to ensure that they are not worn or uneven. You should also inspect for rust or corrosion. Usually a good scrubbing with a mild detergent should remove most dirt and debris. Then, the portable ladders should be dried by using compressed air or a blower. If you don’t have access to these, at least dry them in the sun.


The ladder should then have all moving contact points sprayed with a good silicone spray, making sure none gets on the area where the operator would place their foot. The ladder should be lubricated on all joints and any parts that move in contact with another part. After lubricating, the ladder should be opened and closed several times to fully lubricate the area.


Set Up and Use

When setting up a ladder, most users open it up and move it around until it feels like all legs are making contact with the ground and it seems level; then they begin to climb. Unfortunately, once they climb up the first step, the “racking” of the ladder changes now that weight is on it. One way to minimize this is to step on the first step and then lean back on the ladder just enough to pull the front legs off the ground (1/2 inch is usually enough) to “re-rack” the ladder, this may need to be done several times to get the ladder balanced fully. You should notice an immediate increase in stability. Experts contend that just doing this simple test on the first step could significantly reduce the number of visits to the emergency room. Also, always use a ladder that exceeds the height of the job. This prevents users from having to climb on the maximum height step or higher, as well as prevents them from having to reach too far. It is always best to have more ladder under you than to be balancing near the top of the ladder. Keep your weight and body centered on the ladder. You should position your feet at shoulder width apart and on the same step when possible. Never straddle a ladder. Do not overreach and never step on the top step.  It’s best to always have something beside the ladder to hang onto just in case you lose your balance.


Climbing Down

When you have finished your task and are ready to come down the ladder, make sure your hands are free so each hand can grip the ladder rungs as you come down. You should move one foot down to the next step and then the other foot onto the same step; again each foot should be about shoulder width apart. Keep your weight over the ladder—leaning into the ladder, never lean back.

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