Watch Your Step: Stepladder Safety Basics

Ladder accidents cause 160,000 injuries and 300 deaths per year. Stay safe by taking a few moments to prepare for ladder use.

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Need a stepladder for your next project? Don’t take it for granted. The American Ladder Institute says approximately 160,000 ladder-related injuries are reported every year, with about 300 deaths. Take a few moments to think about how you’re using your ladder — preparations that can help keep you safe.

Choose the Right Ladder

Stepladders are usually made from wood, fiberglass or aluminum. Aluminum ladders are lightweight and easy to carry, but should never be used when working with electricity. Wood ladders are mainly used indoors in dry conditions. Stepladders have duty ratings (usually found on the label) giving maximum weights. The maximum weight load of the ladder must be greater than the total weight of the user. Calculate the weight by adding your own weight, plus the weight of your clothing and any tools or other items that will be carried or placed on the stepladder. Don’t allow two people on the ladder at the same time. Some specialty ladders have steps on both sides of the ladder and higher duty ratings, so two people can work at the same time.

Inspect the Ladder

Eyeball your stepladder before use, even if it’s new. Inspect the “shoes” at the base of the ladder to make sure they are intact and have gripping power. Check side rails, rivets and “spreaders” or hinges for any breaks or bends. The stepladder should not be rickety or sway from side to side. There should be no missing steps. Wipe the steps clean of paint oil or other materials that could be hazardous. Read the safety information labels on the ladder.

Check Your Location

Are there any overhanging wires or tree branches that could cause a problem? Remove any obstacles in the work area. Be aware of weather conditions. Rain, snow, ice or wind could cause a stepladder to slip, or you might slip on a wet rung. Never place a stepladder in front of a door or opening. And use safety markers to notify others you are using a ladder.

Set It Up Correctly

Never place a stepladder against a wall or building and try to climb the rungs. Always open the stepladder fully, making sure the spreaders between the legs are working properly. Set the stepladder on a firm, level foundation. The shoes should make complete contact with the surface on which they rest.

Dress for Success

Wear slip-resistant shoes that will help you grip the rungs as you climb. Flip flops, leather-soled or backless shoes should never be worn on a ladder. Wear comfortable clothing but not so loose that it might catch on parts of the ladder.

Be in Good Health

If you feel dizzy or off-balance, have been drinking alcohol, or are compromised in any way by age or health, do not climb a ladder. Wait until you feel better, or enlist the help of someone who is better able to safely climb the ladder.

Touch Three Spots

When you climb the steps of the ladder, keep three points of contact at all times. Do not try to carry supplies in your hands. Keep tools in a tool belt attached to your waist and have someone hand you items such as paint or larger tools once you have climbed the ladder. Keep the center of your stomach between the rails when you are climbing or working.

Mind Your Step

The top step or “top cap” of the ladder is not a step — it’s not made to stand on. It is part of the “A” structure of the ladder and excess weight can cause the ladder to split. If you cannot reach from the second step from the top, use a longer ladder that will allow you to work in a safe position. Don’t ever try to move your ladder’s position while you are standing on it.

Don’t Reach Out

Overreach can cause your ladder to slip or be pulled sideways and cause accidents. Do not extend your reach to a point too far from the ladder. Step down and move your supplies and your ladder to a closer location.

Rosie Wolf Williams
Rosie Wolf Williams is a Vermont-based writer with credits in business profiles, veterinary and agriculture, natural health, general interest, automotive, hardware, DIY, innovation and trends. Her work has appeared in USA Weekend, Energy Times, Costco Connection, Next Avenue, and many other local and national publications. She is the author of "The Thought of You: The Art of Being Alive!" and is an award-winning speaker.