Don't let a ladder be your downfall

Take these steps so you don't end up a statistic

Published: October 29, 2014 05:15 PM

Whether it's cleaning your gutters or hanging holiday decorations, you might have to climb a ladder to get the job done this fall. But be careful: Nearly 200,000 emergency-room visits and 300 deaths are linked to ladder accidents every year, and most people who fell didn't have anybody holding the ladder below them.  

The typical accident victim is a 55-year-old man who falls nearly 10 feet, according to a study of more than 27,000 trauma patients published this month in the Journal of Surgical Research. Reaching too far and placing the ladder in the wrong spot are the most common causes of those accidents.

So before you use a stepladder, multiuse ladder, or an extension ladder, follow these safety tips. And make sure you buy a ladder with a maximum weight rating of 300 pounds (Type 1A). Since you can't always predict who will be using it, the added safety margin is worth any extra cost and weight, Consumer Reports safety experts say. 

  • Place your ladder on a firm, level surface, using the leg-levelers if necessary. Don't put lumber, a rock, or other object under a ladder leg for leveling.
  • Use a stepladder only in its fully open, A-shaped position.
  • When raising an extension ladder, lock each section securely before going on to the next. 
  • Look out for power lines. Avoid setting up near a doorway or other high-traffic area.
  • Position the base of an extension ladder 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet of height—that's 3 feet at the base for a 12-foot ladder, or about a 75-degree angle. Shallower angles increase the chance that the ladder's feet will slide out from under you. 
  • Have a helper hold the bottom of the ladder and only allow one person on at a time.
  • Always face a ladder when you're climbing and descending and grab the rungs, not the side rails.
  • Keep both feet on the ladder and center your belt buckle between the rails so you don't reach more than 12 inches to either side. 
  • Stay off the ladder's top step and bucket shelf.
  • Climb down to move the ladder—don't try to "walk" it to a new position while you're on it. 
  • Keep your tools in a tool belt. When you work with unwieldy tools or paint cans, climb down far enough so someone can easily hand them up to you or pull them up with a rope.
  • When closing, folding, or retracting an extension ladder, grip the sides of the ladder securely, keeping your hands clear of the descending sections.

—Sue Byrne

How to maintain your ladder


• Make sure both straight and adjustable ladders have slip-resistant feet.

• Keep hinges and bolts tightened, but don't over tighten them.

• On an extension ladder, inspect hinges or locks for wear, and check the lanyard for fraying. If you need to replace the lanyard, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

• Check aluminum ladders for loose rivets, dents, or bent parts. Check fiberglass ladders for cracks, chips, and missing parts. With wood, look for splits, cracks, chips, and loose rungs or steps. Any such problems indicate imminent failure and mandate replacing the ladder.

• Wipe off water, oil, and other slippery substances from steps before you start climbing.

•  Store your ladder in a sheltered area away from moisture and heat, and keep a fiberglass ladder out of direct sunlight.

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