Be safe up there: March is Ladder Safety Month

By Gregory Williams, BWC Occupational Safety & Hygiene Fellow

A lot happens in March – the luck of the Irish, NCAA championship basketball, the first day of spring and Ladder Safety Month. OK, maybe that last one isn’t as well known, but it’s important.

Whether on the job or at home, many of us come across ladders. We use them to hang up and take down Christmas lights, clean out gutters, change light bulbs and fix things at work and at home. Well, we should be using ladders for these activities. I said should because so many people are tempted to grab the nearest chair, stool or box to get that extra boost when trying to reach something.

We’ve all seen viral “fail” videos of chairs slipping out from underneath someone. Many are able to dust themselves off and get back to work, but what about those who fall and don’t get up? What about those who break an arm, suffer concussions, or even worse, are killed because of a fall that seems so insignificant? This is why ladder safety is so important.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 43 percent of fatal falls involve a ladder and 28 percent of fatal falls involving a ladder happened at heights of 6 to 10 feet. We often think it will take a far greater fall to be a fatality, but this just isn’t true. There is no safe fall.

So how do you keep yourself and those around you safe when using ladders this year? First, use a ladder to reach things instead of a chair, table or box. Always be sure to use the right ladder for the situation. Do not use a step ladder when it’s leaned up against a house; this is a job for extension ladders. Use a ladder that has the proper height. If you’re standing on the top rung, the ladder is too short, and it’s time to go get a taller one. And always make sure you use a ladder that is able to support the weight you will put on it.

Second, it’s important to set up the ladder properly. For extension ladders, ensure the base is on stable, level ground and have someone hold the base while you ascend. Follow the 4-1 ratio. This means for every 4 feet of ladder length you need to place the ladder a foot away from the surface it’s leaning against. Make sure to properly lock step ladders in place before ascending.

Third and finally, make sure you keep yourself between the sides of the ladder at all times. Never overreach when using a ladder. It may take you more time to climb down and move the ladder, but it will be worth it.

Don’t leave ladder safety up to luck. Whether working at 2 feet or 20 feet, always remember the rules while working on ladders. Only use them in the proper conditions, using the right ladder for the job, and stay as close to the ladder as possible while you work. It could be the difference between life and death.

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