Whether you’re going into the loft to get the Christmas decorations, clearing the gutters, trimming a hedge, or just changing a lightbulb, chances are you’ll find yourself on a ladder at some point.
The most important thing to do is make sure it’s safe to use.
Gravity is an inescapable force, which is especially true if your ladder is faulty, or the worksite is in an unsafe condition. You could easily suffer an injury, or worse.
With that in mind, the folks over at Ladders UK Direct have put together a guide to ladder safety.
Create a Safe Working Environment
Before you even set up your ladder, you should make sure your working environment is as safe as possible.
It does nobody any good to have a strong gust of wind blow the ladder over!
Whether you are indoors or outdoors, you’ll need to make sure that any electric cables nearby are safely insulated or turned off.
The presence of electrical cables will also dictate how high you can go, and what material your ladder will need to be.
Fiberglass ladders are non-conductive, so anyone working near electricity will fare better on a fiberglass ladder.
Check that the ground is as stable and flat as it can be.
If you’re working on soft ground, such as muddy grass, you may need to invest in some stabilizing mats that can be attached to the ladder’s feet for extra grip.
Keep a close eye on the weather if you’re working outdoors.
Wet and windy weather is no fun to even walk the dog in, let alone work on a ladder!
Adverse weather conditions can make outdoor work very unsafe, so it may be best to wait for a dry day if you need to use a ladder outside.
Choose the Right Ladder
Once you’re satisfied that the working conditions are safe, it’s time to choose the ladder.
For a simple light bulb change, or to reach something on a high shelf, you may only need a set of small steps, or a short step ladder.
The same goes for trimming a hedge, or cleaning external windows.
Accessing a loft is likely to require an extendable ladder, if your loft space does not have a loft ladder already attached.
If you need to clear your gutters of leaves in the autumn, or access your roof for any repairs, a leaning ladder or extension ladder would be best.
There are also specialized roof ladders with hooks that can be adjusted to ensure they slot over the roof ridge.
You should also make sure the ladder you’re using allows you to face the task.
Having to twist around on the ladder could easily cause you to fall.
This means that clearing the gutters, for example, is best done using an extension ladder or a roof ladder, not a step ladder.
Step ladders can only end up perpendicular (side-on) to the gutters, which means you’d need to twist round or over-reach to clear them out, which is unsafe.
Ladder Materials Matter
You might think a ladder is a ladder – that it doesn’t matter what it’s made out of so long as it has rungs and stands upright.
You would be wrong. Ladder material matters greatly.
For example, if you need to work near a source of electricity, or a heat source, go for a ladder made of fiberglass.
It’s a non-conductive material, so you’ll be safe from burns and electric shocks.
Check the manufacturer instructions to find out the maximum voltage at which your chosen ladder will keep you safe.
Fiberglass ladders do tend to be heavy, however, so it might be worth investing in an aluminum ladder if you frequently work at height.
Most domestic DIY jobs can be done using an aluminum ladder – from accessing the loft to changing a bulb.
Inspect Your Ladder
Now that you’re sure your ladder is the right one for the task, make sure it’s safe to use.
Here’s a checklist of what you should inspect when you’re setting up your ladder:
- Main body: make sure the side rails, feet, rungs, and fixings are not in any way damaged, corroded, buckled, or worn
- Locking mechanisms: if you’re using an extension ladder, make sure the locking mechanism works properly, and ensure any locking bars can be fully engaged
- Pulley ropes: If your ladder has a pulley rope, make sure it isn’t worn or frayed
- Labels: Any labels on the ladder should be securely attached, clearly legible, and understandable in layman’s terms. In other words, don’t peel them off!
- Ladder stay: If you need to use a ladder stay, make sure it isn’t corroded, worn, buckled, or warped, otherwise it won’t help you gain any stability
- Cleanliness: Make sure the ladder is as clean as possible. If you use it to paint, try to make sure no paint gets on the ladder in a way that could cover up any of the above defects.
Use Your Ladder Safely
You’ve got a safe ladder that’s right for the job, and the working conditions are perfect. Now it’s time to use the ladder!
If you’re using a leaning ladder or an extension ladder, secure the ladder carefully in place.
If this is not possible, you can use a ladder stay to aid stability if you have to prop it against weak surfaces like windowsills.
You should also adhere to the 1-in-4 rule when setting up.
This is the most stable way of placing a ladder, and involves moving the base of the ladder out by one unit for every four units up.
So, if you’re working at a height of 4m, your ladder base should be 1m out.
Ideally, you should maintain three points of contact on the ladder at all times.
Try to ensure this is one hand and both feet, but if you’re using your hand to perform a task, you can lean your chest or knees forward instead.
Careful use of a tool belt when transporting tools and equipment will also help you maintain your three points of contact.
You should also keep your center of gravity firmly between the two side rails.
Over-reaching to one side of the other can cause you to fall.
Twisting round to perform the task at hand can also lead to a fall, so you should ensure you set the ladder up to let you work face-on to the task.
You should also make sure you don’t stand on the top rungs of your ladder. This can cause it to unbalance and fall over, bringing you with it!
The ladder can also unbalance if you exceed its upper weight limit, or if you rush your task.
Take your time with your task, and make sure you know how much weight your ladder can support – remember to take your own body weight into account during preparation.
There you have it! We hope following this guide will help ensure you safely accomplish any work at height.