You know you shouldn't walk under one. But what about when you're on one? Our superstition-free guide to ladder safety offers need-to-know info on everything from ladder type and load capacity to material and size.
Ladder safety sounds simple, right? Yet every year, thousands of people suffer minor and major injuries due to the improper usage or placement of ladders.
Careful, climbers: this isn't just an on-the-job problem for professional painters or roofers who undergo ladder safety training. Even Santa could be vulnerable. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in November and December 2010 alone, more than 13,000 people received emergency room treatment for holiday decoration-related injuries, many of them ladder-related falls (about half of all treated fractures are due to falls from ladders, according to another holiday-related report by the CDC).
So whether you're hanging Christmas lights at home or painting a house, following these ladder safety tips will help ensure an accident-free experience.
Ladder Type and Load Capacity
Portable ladders can be organized into three basic categories: industrial (Type I), commercial (Type II), and household (Type III), with load capacities of no more than 250, 225, and 200 pounds, respectively. Step ladder weight capacities are commonly as high as 300 pounds. Safety rule #1: don't exceed your ladder's load capacity. Keep in mind that weight capacity includes not only your body, but also any tools or materials that you're holding or carrying to the roof.
The U.S. CPSC recommends using a ladder that extends at least three feet over the roofline or working surface. This provides greater stability and weight distribution, and helps to avoid violating another fundamental ladder safety rule: don't stand on the top step and/or bucket shelf.
Material might not seem like a safety-related issue, but then you've probably never been standing on a metal ladder that's suddenly contacted by a live electrical wire. If you're handling lights or wiring, or working near live wires, then you should use a fiberglass or wooden ladder instead of an aluminum one.
Ladder Placement and Stability
Ladders should always be positioned on a flat and stable surface. If you're climbing a tall ladder - or any ladder on a windy day - securing it with rope or a ladder stabilizer is a good idea. When leaning a ladder against a support, remember that it's "all 4:1." In other words, for every four feet of height, place the ladder one foot away from its support.
Safe Ladder Usage
As with most tools, a ladder is only as safe as the behavior of its user. Take care, work wisely, and stay centered.