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Using Ladders—10 ways to make a Safety Checks?

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PAUL needed to change a bulb in an outside light fixture of his house. He also needed to clean the outside upstairs windows—his wife had mentioned this several times. But Paul kept postponing these jobs. Why? Because he had to use a ladder.

His apprehension was reasonable. He knew that accidents involving ladders can cause serious, even fatal, injuries. These often happen because the worker has not thought enough about how to use a ladder correctly.

Before he tackled these tasks, what did Paul need to consider about ladders? Here are ten suggestions that helped him to do things safely.

Is the Ladder Safe?

1 Get the correct ladder. You might have to overstretch if the ladder is too short. You might have to put it at a dangerous angle if it is too long. Avoid using a stepladder to get into your attic. Have a proper ladder fitted to your attic, or use a leaning ladder.

2 Check your ladder carefully. Has it been stored outside? Wooden ladders expand when wet and contract when dry. In time, the rungs can loosen, causing the ladder to become unstable. Are any of the wooden rungs cracked, or do they show signs of rotting? Often, there is a metal support rod beneath each wooden rung. Is this in place and securely fixed? Have the screws or rivets that were used to attach metal rungs to the uprights broken or rusted away? Larger extension ladders may have pulleys and ropes. Do the pulleys operate smoothly? Does the rope show signs of wear, and is it still long enough? Make all repairs or replacements promptly.

Rungs often have antislip grooves shaped into them. Be sure to remove any dirt that may have accumulated in the grooves. All ladders should have antislip pads on the feet. Check that they are there and are not excessively worn.

3 Transport ladders safely. On a vehicle, secure the ladder to a proper ladder rack, or fasten it to a trailer on at least two points. A long ladder might hang out over the back of the vehicle, so tie a warning flag on the end to make it easily visible to someone following.

It is safest if two people carry a long ladder. But if you have to carry one unassisted and you choose to carry it horizontally, hold it firmly on your shoulder with one arm, using the other to maintain its balance. To avoid hitting anyone, keep the front end above head height. Remember, though, that you have the same length of ladder behind you as you have in front! Comedies make it seem amusing when people are hit by a ladder. In the real world, though, this is never funny—especially if you are the one hurt.

When you carry the ladder vertically, take the weight against your upper body, using one hand to carry it and the other hand, held above shoulder height, to balance it. Watch out for overhead wires, light fixtures, and signs!

4 Position the ladder correctly. For safety, the ladder should not lean sideways and must rest at an angle of 75 degrees from the floor.

5 Provide support at the top and at the base. Be careful where you put the top of the ladder. Make sure that the top surface against which the ladder rests is stable and nonslip. Never rest the ladder on glass or plastic. When possible, tie it securely to a fixture, with the top of the ladder rising about three feet [1 m] beyond the top point of landing.

Take particular care that when you initially climb the ladder, you tie it at the top. That first climb will not be secure, and neither will the last, when you climb down after untying it from the top. To make the first and last climbs safer, have an assistant hold the ladder at its base while you climb. However, this is only effective when the ladder is not longer than about 15 feet [5 m].

If the ground slopes away from the building, place something heavy at the base of the ladder or tie a lower rung to a fixture. If the ground is uneven but solid, use a wedge to get a level base. Provide a wooden board or something similar to make a firm base if the ground is soft or of loose material.

If you use a stepladder, make sure that all four feet are firmly on the ground, with the two sections fully apart and any safety catches locked in place.

Are You Safe?

6 Check your shoes. Before you climb a ladder, make sure that the soles of your shoes are dry. Remove anything, like mud, that might make you slip.

7 Carry things carefully. To leave both hands free for climbing, if possible, carry tools in a holder that is attached to a belt. Try to find alternative methods of lifting awkward objects, but if you must use a ladder, keep your free hand in contact with the ladder at all times by sliding it along the side of the ladder as you climb. Be deliberate and methodical, and do not rush.

If you use electric power tools, never use both hands to operate them. A drill, for example, may unexpectedly jam or slip, causing you to lose your balance and fall. Never lock them into an on mode; they may fall while still operating.

8 Be considerate of others. If you are working in a public place, make the ladder easily visible and, if possible, cordon it off. If you have to move the ladder around a corner, be aware that others will not be expecting this. Shout a friendly warning, and check to see if the way is clear.

When you have tools with you on a ladder, remember that even a small screwdriver can cause injury when dropped from a height. If you have to go away for some reason and you have been unable to tie the ladder securely, get someone to stand guard, or lay the ladder down safely until you return. Do not leave it unattended.

9 Check your state of health. Since climbing is largely a matter of balance and rhythm, do not climb if you feel sick or nauseated or if you suffer from vertigo.

10 Climb safely. At all times, be safety conscious. Never allow two or more people on a ladder at the same time. Never climb in strong, blustery winds. Never stand on the top rung of a stepladder or above the fourth rung from the top of a long ladder. Never overextend an extension ladder; always have at least three rungs overlapping. Never reach too far. If you lean too far while on a ladder, it is easy to lose your balance and fall. Rather than risk injury, move the ladder, even if it means taking longer to do the job. When climbing, look straight ahead.

Whatever precautions you take, there will always be dangers when you use a ladder. Perhaps you can minimize them with the help of these suggestions. They helped Paul. By following them, he safely put the new bulb in the outside light fixture. And the window cleaning? Well, he would do that another time . . . perhaps!


1 Get the correct ladder

 2 Check your ladder carefully

 3 Transport ladders safely

 4 Position the ladder correctly

 5 Provide support at the top and at the base

 6 Check your shoes

 7 Carry things carefully

 8 Be considerate of others

 9 Check your state of health

10 Climb safely

Athletic Training

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