Nine Rules for Safe Ladder Use

Man using a ladder to hang Christmas lights on his house

Home improvement projects keep us busy year-round, and while some projects are easily done from the ground level, many require the use of a ladder.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), falls are a leading cause of unintentional injury mortality nationwide, and 43 percent of fatal falls in the last 10 years have involved a ladder.

Falls are the leading cause of injury in South Shore Health’s trauma patients. South Shore Hospital is an American College of Surgeons (ACS) verified Adult Level II Trauma Center. This means we are equipped to handle all critical injuries, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

“Some of the most horrible fractures we see are a result of ladder falls,” says Vince Urbaitis, RN, an Orthopedic Trauma Operating Room Nurse at South Shore Hospital.

“When possible, people should leave work that involves ladders to the professionals.”

Whether you are using a stepladder to reach a light fixture or bringing out a taller ladder to decorate your home for the holidays, follow these guidelines to ensure you stay safe while working on your home.

Read the Instructions

Yes, ladders have a pretty clear purpose. But they can have many features that aren’t clear before you use them. Be sure to read any safety manual, or review the instructions printed on the side, before getting to work.

Give the Ladder a Look

Before you start your project, take a look at the ladder to ensure all its parts are there, every time you use it. Be sure no screws are missing and that the rungs for climbing are solid and secure. Replace any missing parts. If anything is missing, hold off on your project until you have a safer ladder.

Watch the Feet of Your Ladder

When checking your ladder, pay close attention to the feet. A secure ladder starts where the tool meets the ground. Ensure that the rubber covering is not torn or missing. Even small rips, tears, or problems can mean big risks to your safety when you climb. If you see any damage, replace the feet.

Wear Proper Shoes

When using a ladder, wear slip-resistant shoes with heavy soles to keep your footing on the rungs. Never climb a ladder barefoot or when wearing flip-flops.

Put Your Ladder on a Solid Foundation

Before climbing, make sure the ladder’s feet are on a solid foundation. Avoid muddy surfaces, since they do not offer enough resistance. If you have any doubts about the stability of the ground, don’t climb the ladder.

Be Mindful of Doors

Does your project bring you in front of a door? Do not place your ladder in front of closed doors that can open toward the ladder. Be sure the door is blocked open, locked, or guarded before you head up.

Check the Weather 

It’s not just risky to use a metal ladder during a thunderstorm. Rain can make the treads slippery. Wind can easily push the ladder over—even while you’re on it. If bad weather or strong wind is in the forecast, reschedule your project for a calmer day.

Take it Slow

Abrupt motions on a ladder of any height can be dangerous. Move slowly, avoid shifting your weight from one side to the other, and don’t climb up and down quickly. If you’re assisting someone on a ladder and they’re moving too fast, tell them to slow down. Never attempt to move a ladder while standing on it.  Don’t do your project alone.    

Stay off the Top

Every ladder has a label that indicates the maximum safe height—usually a few rungs before the top. Do not use any rungs above that line as a step.

By taking these simple precautions, you can safely work on your home improvement projects.

Learn more about South Shore Health’s Trauma Center.

Material from SafeStart was used in this post.