Using Extension Ladders the Safe Way
By Richard N Williams
Every year hundreds of people are injured in falls from ladders and heights and most of these incidents involve extendible or extension ladders. As ladders can be extremely dangerous, many people are loathe to use them when they need to work at height, but ladders are by far the most practical and convenient method of working off-ground.
Most accidents involving working at height and on ladders can also be avoided as many are caused by either improper use or poorly sited ladders that either slip or fall. However, if proper procedures and precautions are taken working on an extension ladder need not be dangerous at all.
The first step to safe working on an extension ladder is examining it for damage. Lots of accidents involving extension ladders are caused by the ladder itself being bent, warped, cracked or with loose rungs. All this should be inspected and looked for before the ladder is used and if any faults are discovered it is time to get a replacement. It is also advisable to label the ladder to ensure nobody else uses it.
The next step is to erect the ladder. The ground where the ladder is to be placed should first be inspected. Loose surfaces and uneven ground should be avoided as this can cause sipping and toppling. Once the surface has been cleared the ladder should be placed against the wall and an appropriate angle – not too steep and not too shallow.
One method of ensuring you get a good angle is to place the base of the ladder one third distance from the wall as the height you are extending too. So if the ladder is going up thirty feet, then the base of the ladder should be ten feet from the bottom of the wall.
The next to safe use is the climbing of the ladder itself. Tools and equipment should not be carried in the hands and it is important to keep within the confines of ladder, and maintaining three points of contact as you climb. Climbing should also be done gently and you should avoid jerking the extension ladder.
When working on a ladder it is important not to reach away from the ladder and ensure your centre of gravity is within the confines. For best practise somebody should be below, footing the ladder. This is not to keep the ladder from slipping, the weight of the climber would make this difficult and dangerous to do, but it can prevent the ladder wobbling when you are climbing and working.