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Up your ladder

November 23, 2010

Being in the building trades I have learned a lot about safety. However, I was unaware that ladders are among the costliest of insurance claims. According to the Fall 2010 IWIF (Injured Workers Insurance Fund) magazine, falls from straight ladders, step ladders and extension ladders are very common (and costly).

The article states that the reason there are so many ladder accidents is because of these three things:
1. The wrong ladder being used for the job or that a ladder was being used in the first place;
2. The ladder was not properly used, or the right equipment was not used with the ladder;
3. The ladder was defective (mostly from deterioration) – wooden ladders being rotten.

Although this article was geared for professionals there were a few really good things for all of us to know when choosing to use a ladder. I thought I would include these just in case you would need a ladder during your next DIY project. 

There are two basic types of ladders, self supporting (step ladders) and non- self supporting (extension ladders).

When you are choosing the proper ladder to use, make sure you remember that the load ratings are based on your weight AND the weight of the materials AND tools you are carrying up the ladder with you. You also must consider the type of work that you will be doing while using the ladder. If you are doing outside work (gutter work, high reach painting, roof work, etc.) you want to use an extension ladder.
Extension ladders are made of fiberglass, aluminum or wood. Fiberglass is non-conductive and is very heavy. It can however, be stored outside without having to worry about deterioration. Aluminum ladders are light and can also be stored outside. However, they ARE conductive so should not be used around electrical wiring or overhead power lines. The last type of ladder is wooden. This ladder is strong but it is heavy, does not weather well outside and needs to be well maintained and closely inspected before using. Actually, you should inspect them all each time before you use them.

Step ladders are made of the same three materials as the extension ladders and are most often kept inside the house. Typically these ladders are short and compact and can be stored in a closet.  Although they are more light weight than the extension ladders, the same safety precautions should be followed as I noted above. 

Here are some basic safety tips from IWIF for using extension/straight ladders:
1. Do not apply more weight than it is designed to support (combination of person + tools + materials)
2. Avoid electrical hazards (never use the metal ladder near overhead power lines)
3. Do not use a step ladder as a straight ladder
4. Do not stand on the top three rungs of a straight or extension ladder
5. Do not put your ladder up on top of anything else to gain additional height
6. Do not move or shift the ladder while on it
7. Do not overreach from your position on the ladder
8. Inspect ladders before use
9. Do not use a ladder that is missing steps
10. Do not stand on the top platform of a ladder
11. Always maintain a three point contact (two hands and a foot; two feet and one hand) on the ladder when climbing
12. Keep your body centered on the steps and always face the ladder when climbing up or down

Please remember that safety is important no matter where you are working or what you are working on.  A good DIY’er knows that safety is first.

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