Ladder Safety

Do you know what is one of the most potentially dangerous things around the home? The chances are that you have one of them lurking in your garden shed, the garage or under the house.

We’re talking about ladders. These seemingly harmless DIY must-haves are responsible for thousands of accidents every year. And nearly 80 of these accidents actually occur at home, not in the workplace.

The types of injuries suffered are often serious, with spinal damage, head injuries and even deaths resulting from a tumble, while broken bones are a common outcome.

And it’s not just falls from heights that do the most damage, as you only need to be 1-2m off the ground for things to get perilous.

But the good news is that the majority of these ladder-related accidents and injuries are avoidable, as they come about either through not setting up a ladder correctly or not using it in a safe way.

With that in mind, here’s our simple guide to staying ladder-safe.

Make the right choice

The first step in ladder safety is to make sure that you use the correct type in any given situation.

Using a ladder that’s too short or too long, or one that lacks support when you need it, is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for a mishap. Ladders come in two basic types.

Folding ladders

Hinged at the top, these open out to an A-frame and are then locked in position with built-in spreader braces.

Some are double-sided and others can be opened and locked out to form a long, straight ladder. When used as an A-frame, they don’t need support.

They’re designed for single-storey gutter cleaning, changing outdoor light bulbs and trimming tall hedges or lower tree branches.

Extension ladders

These are the most common ladders for reaching high places. Multiple ladder sections are attached through runners, allowing the length to be increased.

These are designed for working at height and for providing access to high areas, with flexibility allowed by their adjustable length. They need to be firmly supported and can be used for accessing roofs or tall trees and second-storey work such as painting or cleaning gutters.

extension ladder, handyman magazine ,
Use extension ladders when you need extra reach

Set it up right

Once you’ve chosen the ladder, setting it up properly is important.

CHECK the surface is level, stable and free from anything like moss that may cause the legs to slip, regardless of the type of ladder.

If the surface is uneven, fit a levelling device to the side of the ladder. On soft ground, position 400 x 200 x 50mm timber blocks under the legs. Don’t use bricks.

LOOK for overhead obstructions.

MAKE sure you don’t put it where you may be knocked by a swaying branch or anything similar.

ANGLE the ladder at a ratio of 1:4, with the feet 1m out from the vertical surface for every 4m of height.

ENSURE the surface you plan to rest your ladder against is stable. If you are leaning it on a tree, position it against the trunk, not a branch.

NEVER rest the top rung of a ladder against a pole or tree trunk, unless it’s fitted with a tree bumper.

TIE or anchor the ladder securely to prevent movement when you plan to use it for an extended period or during vigorous work.

EXTEND the ladder at least 1m above the resting point if accessing a roof.

Climb it correctly

No matter what type of ladder you use, always face inwards towards the steps and never stand higher than the third rung from the top.

MAINTAIN three points of contact with the ladder, either two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot.

KEEP your centre of gravity between the side rails of the ladder and don’t overreach.

DON’T attempt any task that requires strong pushing or pulling.

AVOID working on anything overhead that may fall on you.

CLIMB down before you attempt to move a ladder to a new spot.

extendable step ladder, handyman magazine,
This type of folding ladder opens out to form a straight ladder

extendable step ladder, handyman magazine,
When the ladder is straight, it is perfect for reaching high into trees

tree bumper, handyman magazine,
Never rest the top rung of a ladder against a pole or tree trunk, unless it’s fitted with a tree bumper

Work platforms

These are used to make working less than 1m or so above ground easier and safer.

They have a wide platform top and generally have folding legs with one or two rungs. These legs are often independently adjustable, allowing them to be set at varying heights and to suit uneven surfaces.

Use them for painting projects, trimming larger hedges and house washing.

connecting brackets, handyman magazine,
With this type of platform ladder, two or more can be connected with integrated brackets

connecting brackets, handyman magazine,
Connecting brackets can join two or more platforms together

Safety checklist

There are a few things to do before you get climbing.

ENSURE the bolts and rivets are secure and the hinges and locks are functioning correctly.

MAKE sure all the treads are sound, clean and dry.

CHECK the rope is in good condition and pulleys on extension ladders are functioning correctly.