I've heard a lot of people say that ladders are dangerous and unsafe. The truth of the matter is that ladders are completely safe when used properly. We use ladders on a daily basis, while cleaning windows and pressure cleaning houses, and have never had an injury. Ladders are only as dangerous as the user. Here you will find several safety tips to make sure that you are completely safe when using ladders. This tips are meant for extension ladders but may come in handy for step ladders as well.
Before you even touch the ladder you want to make sure that you are properly taken care of. So let's take a look. Are you wearing the proper type of footwear? I would hope that its obvious that climb a ladder in flip flops is not a safe practice. Have the proper shoes on before starting, for example, sneakers or work boots, and make sure that they are tied properly. The last thing you want to do is trip over a shoe lace while climbing or descending a ladder. Now that your foot wear is taken care of lets check everything else. Make sure there is nothing on your body that could get caught on a rung or interfere with your feet or hands.
Next, if you are working with tools make sure that you have a proper tool belt. It should fit properly so that it is not slipping or falling off as you work. Do not carry tools in your hands while climbing a ladder. You want to make sure that your hands are free so you can have a proper grip.
Now, the ladder. The first thing you should do is purchase ladder mitts. Ladder mitts are a soft rubber mitt that fits on the top of the ladder. They serve two functions: 1. The protect the ladder from scratching the siding of a house or whatever the ladder will be leaning against. 2. They grip to the surface they are leaning against and prevent the top of the ladder from sliding while climbing or working. You can also purchase a ladder stabilizer if you wish. This piece of apparatus needs to be attached to the ladder and spans a couple feet. This adds extra stability to the top of the ladder. We don't use these but some do.
You can also add adjustable leg extension to a ladder. These attach to the feet of the ladder and extend to about a foot. The great thing about this type of device is that you are able to adjust one leg longer then the other which is great for uneven ground or working on stairs. Make sure that you purchase a good pair of extension if you decide to add these. If you are using a heavier ladder you will need a more heavy duty extension. Also, these are not something that should be added to large ladders like a 40 foot extension because the ladder itself is so heavy the extension may not be able to handle the weight.
OK, so we have taken care of the you and the ladder. The next thing to look at is where you are placing the ladder. First, getting to where you need to be. The two easiest ways to carry a ladder are parallel to the ground or in an upright position. You can put the ladder on your should and stand it up where you need it. For guys like us, who carry a ladder from window to window, carrying the ladder upright is easiest. Make sure the ladder is not extend and grab a lower rung with one hand and use the other to keep it stabilized. If you carry a ladder upright, or when you are raising a ladder, make sure you are clear of any power lines. The last thing you want is to be electrocuted.
Next, you want to make sure that the ground is as level as possible. Putting a ladder on an uneven surface will make the ladder tilt to one side which is extremely unsafe (leg extensions will help with unlevel surfaces). You also want to make sure that the base of ladder is the right distance from the wall it will be leaning on. When you put a ladder against a wall you do not want it to be too close or too far away. This will make the angle of the ladder too steep or too shallow of an angle. Too steep and you run the risk of falling backwards off of the wall; too shallow and your weight may make the base of the ladder slide out from under your bring the ladder and your body crashing to the ground below.
If you have to put a ladder on a surface that may be slippery make sure that you have someone holding the base of the ladder. Wood decks, tiles, etc. can be very slippery and may cause the ladder to slip out from underneath you if not careful. If your ladder is in the dirt, you are pretty safe. The feet of most extension ladders can be turned so that they dig into the ground adding extra safety. When you put the ladder against the wall make sure it is as close as possible to the area you are working. You do NOT want to be extending while working. The farther you have to reach, the more at risk you are of falling. Another rule of thumb is to not be on the top rung. The farther down the ladder you are the safe. Optimally you would want to be at least 3 rungs from the top.
The last tip I am going to give is make sure you are comfortable. If you are not comfortable working on a ladder you are more at risk of an accident. Start out working on a smaller ladder, like a 16 ft extension ladder and work your way up. After a few times on a ladder you should start to feel more comfortable. As always, if you are not comfortable make sure you have someone with you. If you fall and get hurt, you will need someone to call for help.