Carefully inspect your ladder before use.
Avoid climbing in messy or uncertain weather.
Always climb with three points of contact.
Don't rush, and avoid distractions when climbing.
"Safety first" is (always) the best mantra.
Ladders are about as handy as a tool can be when it comes to addressing hard-to-reach home improvement projects. Suppose you need to look at your roof to locate a leak, or perhaps it’s a fun task like hanging holiday lights.
Regardless of what’s got you taking those steps up a ladder, one thing is for sure— you should always take safety measures to protect yourself.
Here are nine must-know tips for keeping yourself safe while using a ladder.
1. Ask Yourself If You’re Comfortable
Let's be honest—climbing a ladder isn't for everyone. There are circumstances where you shouldn't climb a ladder at all.
Avoid using a ladder if you're:
Feeling tired, dizzy, or fatigued
On a medication that causes troublesome side effects
Injured or have limited mobility
Wearing sandals, flip flops, or loose clothing
These principles generally apply to tall ladders (10-feet or more), although step ladders can still be dangerous if you don't take precautions. Make sure you wear slip-resistant shoes, as well.
*Please note that injury is possible even when practicing safety measures.
2. Inspect Your Ladder for Problems
Because they are rated to last for many years, ladders are often a one-time purchase for homeowners. Yours may even be a hand-me-down or one you picked up at a garage sale.
All ladders require inspection. Before climbing, check your ladder for:
Loose or missing screws
Loose or broken rungs
Loose or missing hinges
Excess dirt or rust buildup
Also, be sure to check your ladder's maximum weight capacity to make sure it can handle the combined weight of you and whatever you're carrying. Most heavy-duty ladders range between 250 and 375 pounds.
3. Climb Your Ladder With Others Around
You should always climb a ladder under the observation of others when possible. Even better, have someone hold the base of the ladder while you climb and work on it.
Having someone else around is helpful for monitoring projects from the ground. You can have more peace of mind and work efficiently when a friend or family member keeps an eye on the situation.
4. Don't Climb In Risky Weather
Excessive rain, snow, or wind should press pause on your ladder-climbing plans. If you hear thunder or spot lightning nearby, carefully climb down your ladder and wait for the weather to pass before proceeding.
Certain instances, such as the buildup of an ice dam in your gutters, may necessitate a vertical visit during the cold winter months. Take extra precautions, such as shoveling out an ice-free spot for the ladder to sit on the ground, and avoid climbing if the rungs are frosty or slick.
5. Practice the Three-Points-of-Contact Climb
Climbers should keep three points of contact when using a ladder, meaning three limbs should be touching the ladder at all times.
When climbing, always grip the rungs instead of the sides. Avoid climbing multiple rungs at once, and make sure your foot is stable before proceeding to the next one.
Finally, only climb a ladder when facing it. Perhaps you've seen a contractor walk down a ladder like a set of stairs—please don't attempt this.
6. Set Up Your Ladder on Firm Ground
Properly positioning a ladder is one of the key ways to prevent accidents. When time-consuming projects come along that require a ladder, it's tempting to speed up the process, especially in cold weather. However, as the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.
Ladders should be positioned on firm ground, free of ice, mud, or slick or unstable surfaces. Its touchpoint on your home, barn, garage, or other structure should also be stable.
7. Reposition Your Ladder Instead of Reaching
Keep your center of gravity (your hips and midsection) over the base of the ladder. Avoid leaning, reaching, or shimmying the ladder sideways. It takes a little extra time, but it's the safest approach.
8. Keep Your Focus by Eliminating Distractions
To the best of your ability, set yourself up to focus when climbing a ladder.
Here are some tips on cutting out distractions:
Put your phone on silent or leave it elsewhere.
Tell household members you're on the ladder (especially if you're working above an entry point).
Shut down boisterous outdoor activities (sorry kids, no Wiffle ball).
Walk through your contingency plan should something happen, such as sudden inclement weather, before climbing.
9. Avoid Ladder Tasks That Are Out of Your Wheelhouse
Complicated home repair jobs make climbing a ladder the least of your worries. If you know there's an issue up high that you can't diagnose without seeing it first, consider calling an expert. For example, if a ladder task involves electricity or electrical wiring, turn to a local electrician.
Bottom line—when it comes to ladders, always follow a "safety first" mantra to elevate your home improvement projects to new heights.