Strange as it may sound, I am still regularly called to investigate accidents involving ladders. In the workplace, OSHA, in 2011, ranked ladder violations eighth with a total of 3,244. The AFLCIO- affiliated Center for Construction Research and Training estimates that falls from ladders are responsible for 16% of all injury deaths and 24% of all nonfatal lost-time accidents in the construction industry.
The newer single-purpose ladders (straight, extension, step) that I have seen over the past 10 years appear to be much better than older designs. It appears ladder manufacturers are becoming more diligent in their testing and quality control.
Some ladder manufacturers design ladders with many joints so a ladder can be used as a straight ladder, stepladder, raised platform, etc. The locking systems at these joints have had a reputation for weakness or false locking problems. Now, since the patent protection for the best and safest locking system has expired, I no longer see many accidents from this problem, but older ladders with the dangerous-type locking joints are still around.
Weight classifications for ladders are an invitation for misuse. There cannot be much difference in the cost to manufacture a 200-lb-capacity ladder (light duty) and a 300-lb-capacity ladder (extra heavy duty). With winter gear and tool belt plus materials, I may be approaching 300 lb, thus exceeding the capacity of a lightduty ladder. This may be something ladder manufacturers may want to consider.
A poorly maintained ladder is trouble. As with my car and my other tools, I regularly inspect my ladders. A simple inspection of the ladder’s feet, steps, and side rails will not take more than 1 or 2 minutes. Well worth the time.
Inspect and READ all ladder labeling. If you cannot read the labels, contact the manufacturer and ask for replacement labels. They should be more than happy to send them. It is for their protection as well as yours.
DO NOT paint or otherwise create a situation where you cannot examine the condition of the steps and side rails. You definitely want to see the condition of a wooden ladder. And if the feet are worn away, damaged, or the ladder lacks nonslip feet, do not use it without repairs.
Obviously, do not “make do” with a damaged ladder. Scrap it and replace it. This is simple insurance. When scrapping it, make the ladder totally unusable. Cut it into pieces. There have been instances of people putting a damaged ladder on the curb or into a dumpster, who have been successfully sued by someone passing by who took the damaged ladder, used it, and was injured.
Do not use the top half of an extension ladder or a stepladder as a straight ladder. Many people have done so and have suffered serious injury. When using a straight ladder or an extension ladder to climb to a higher surface, make sure the ladder extends at least 3 feet above the surface to which you are climbing. This way you have something to hold onto when stepping onto the roof or back onto the ladder.
nd, once again, for emphasis, READ ALL LABELING ON THE LADDER. Go on the Internet and Google “using a (type of) ladder.”
Nothing is more embarrassing than having to tell people, “Yes, I was injured using a ladder.” A radio announcer in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area was seriously injured many years ago when he fell from a ladder while trimming a tree. To this day listeners still rag on him for this accident.
— Lanny Berke
Lanny Berke is a registered professional engineer and Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a question about safety? You can reach Lanny at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by Leland Teschler