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Ladder Safety — One Step at a Time

Published in Trauma Services, For the Health of It Author: Kevin Sirmons,MD

The Christmas season is here along with all the lights and decorations that make the season special. But if you are using a ladder to make the season merry and have an accident, it’s not likely to be as funny as Clark Griswold made it look on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Each year, it’s estimated 90,000 people are treated in Emergency Rooms due to ladder accidents and hundreds are killed. Ladder injuries can be serious and include broken bones, brain injuries and internal bleeding. To summarize, use extreme caution around ladders because one misstep can have life-changing consequences.

And if for any reason you are uncomfortable with any work you are doing on a ladder, take a step back and ask yourself:

  • Is the work you are doing necessary?
  • If so, is there is anything you can do to increase your safety?
  • Can somebody help you to make your working situation safer?
  • Can you call a professional to perform the needed work?

Please also keep in mind the following safety tips:

The Basics

  • Inspect your ladder. Don’t use a ladder with broken, damaged or worn components.
  • Make sure your ladder is extended and locked before climbing it.
  • Be familiar with your ladder’s load capacity. This weight needs to include not just a person’s weight, but the weight of their tools or anything they are carrying.
  • For work anywhere near electrical equipment, use only a wood or fiberglass ladder.

Special Rules for an Extension Ladder

  • The top of your ladder needs to extend at least three feet above the point of support. Upper contact points should rest firmly against your support.
  • Your ladder should be rise at a 75 degree angle from the ground. In other words, depending on your ladder’s height, it’s base should be positioned one-fourth horizontally from that distance.
  • Always ensure the base will not slip or move in the ground supporting it.

When Working on a Ladder

  • Whether going up or down, always face the rungs of your ladder. Don’t stand on the top three rungs.
  • Wear nonskid shoes and make sure your ladder’s rungs are free of anything slippery (mud, ice, etc.).
  • Use a stable, broad base. Don’t place your ladder on another object to extend it’s height.
  • If possible, have someone hold the base of the ladder to keep it from slipping.
  • Remember the three-point rule. Have at least three hands and/or feet in contact with the ladder at all times while you are on it.
  • Don’t overextend reaching for items while you are on the ladder. If needed, climb down and move the ladder to help you get to it easier.

Kevin W. Sirmons, MD, NRP, FAAFP
Diplomate, American Board of Family Medicine
Diplomate, American Board of Physician Specialties, Board Certification in Emergency Medicine
Fellow, American Academy of Family Physicians
Emergency Medicine, CentraCare – Monticello