Safety Before the First Step

By Teddy Durgin

So, you’ve taken your first important step. You have chosen the ladder that is right for you and the job(s) you will be doing, whether at home or on a work site. But not so fast. Before even stepping foot on that ladder for the first time, there are some basic safety tips that must be followed.

First of all, even a new ladder can potentially be damaged or otherwise compromised. Dave Francis, National Safety Director for Utah-based Little Giant Ladder Systems, LLC, speaks from 30-plus years of industry experience. “A damaged ladder? We don’t know what that’s going to hold,” he remarked. “So, it comes down to the decisions that the user makes on whether or not they’re going to inspect the ladder to see if it’s in good condition before they use it. If you’ve picked the right ladder for the job, then don’t misuse it by standing higher than you should, overreaching while on the ladder, and so forth.”

But most new ladders are in prime condition. Even so, safety must still come first. Chad Lingerfelt, National Safety Training Manager for WernerCo, advised, “From a first-time perspective, you need to know how to inspect the ladder and make sure it is good to go from a safety standpoint. We have an inspection sheet you can download on our website that will walk you through step by step by step. Anyone can do it. Just last week, I taught a class of sixth-graders at my church [about ladder safety] and used the document” as a guide.

He continued, “Number two, make sure you are aware of the general area you’re in. Be sure there’s not a forklift or something that will be coming around the corner and knocking you over. Make sure you are in a safe environment before you start. After you do that, set the ladder up correctly, either on a level surface or having some type of levelers.”

Michael Van Bree, Director of Product Safety and Engineering at Louisville Ladder, concurred. And he has some counsel of his own. “The key thing is inspection,” he said. “You’ll want to make sure whatever ladder you’ve chosen, whatever size it is, and material it’s made out of, you must inspect that ladder before the first use and before each use. Often times, somebody will set up a ladder that has not been inspected. If that’s the case, you can have an unexpected result. The second step is properly setting the ladder up. Take for example a self-supporting step ladder. The key point with that type would be making sure you are on a firm, level surface and the ladder is fully opened, [and] spreaders are secured and locked. Most significantly, are all four feet supported on the ground?”

Francis summed it up best: “Follow the simple rules on your ladder. Nothing will stop you from misusing a ladder except the label and your own common sense.”