The First Step of Safety: Choose Your Ladder Wisely

By Teddy Durgin

Just ask Michael Van Bree, Director of Product Safety and Engineering at Louisville Ladder. For years, his role has been to cover the safety and engineering concerns of his company as it relates to its products.

He remarked, “The key considerations when choosing your ladder are to select a ladder of the proper material. If you are in a conductive environment, for example, you would want to choose a non-conductive material like fiberglass. If lightest weight is most important, then aluminum might give you a little bit lighter weight. Of course, you have to be able to safely reach the work. So, there is size to consider. And then you’ve got the duty rating that is an important factor. In other words, you don’t want to select a ladder that isn’t suitable for your girth and weight. Finally, there is the style of the ladder. You have to know whether or not these are tasks that can be accessed with a self-supporting step ladder, for example, or a leanable, non-self-supporting, single or extension ladder. They are sometimes called ‘multi-purpose ladders’ that can be used as a stepladder or leanable ladder.”

Chad Lingerfelt, National Safety Training Manager for Illinois-based WernerCo, picked up on several of Van Bree’s points. He also offered a few tips of his own. “Number one is indeed choosing the right ladder for the right job,” he said. To that end, he noted, there are several key factors to take into account. Among them is the type of ladder, what kind of job(s) it will be used for, and making sure the ladder can reach high enough for the job(s) you will be trying to do. “Plus,” he added, “make sure you have level ground or that you have the appropriate ladder that you can adjust to the surface you’re on.”

His colleague, Stacy Gardella, also chimed in. WernerCo’s Vice President of Brand Marketing said, “People forget about load capacity. It’s not just the individuals, but the individuals and the equipment they’ll be using. So, when choosing a ladder, take that factor into consideration.”

Dave Francis, National Safety Director for Little Giant Ladder Systems, LLC in Utah, said there is no getting around the reality that much of the public thinks of ladders as being somewhat dangerous. “Statistically, we know that ladders are involved in accidents resulting in disabilities and even fatalities,” he concluded. “But ladders themselves are overbuilt for what they do. They are just misused. People, when trying to get the job done, cut corners and take risks that they shouldn’t.  . . . A ladder used properly and in good condition will never be the cause of an accident. On some level, the responsibility is on you, the user, to take what we make as an overbuilt product, follow the basic rules, and you’ll be safe.”

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.”

The Top Safety Tips While Climbing Ladders

By Teddy Durgin

            Ah, repetition. You’ve gone up that ladder 100 times. Well, that 101st time is no time to get lax when it comes to personal safety. That could be the time you juggle too much, you’re your ascent or descent, miss a step, and suffer an injury. It’s happened to the most experienced climber. But there are some steps you can take to make climbing safe each and every time.

            Some are just common sense. Michael Van Bree, Director of Product Safety and Engineering at Louisville Ladder, cracks wise, “It starts with facing the ladder! Let’s make sure we face the ladder and that we have a firm grip of the ladder. Don’t have your hands distracted with other materials. You want to make sure you are maintaining good contact and control with your hands and your feet as you climb. Keep your hands free by, for example, using a tool belt or some other means to get your materials to the elevated work surface. A material lift or a tag line or rope will do in getting your equipment to the roof or wherever safely.”

            Chad Lingerfelt, National Safety Training Manager for WernerCo, also talked common sense. “Once you are climbing the ladder,” he said, “your belt buckle should be inside the rails. That’s the key thing. If you keep your belt buckle inside the rails, that is the safest thing you can do in terms of keeping your center of balance on that ladder while climbing it. And if it’s a step ladder, do not step on the last two steps as you climb.”

            David Francis, National Safety Director for Little Giant Ladder Systems, LLC, agreed. He added, “Indeed, keep your belt buckle between the side rails of the ladder. We don’t want people grabbing and reaching and trying to get more distance out of their set-up. If you can’t reach with your body between the side rails, stop what you are doing, move your ladder over, and then climb back up.”

            Lingerfelt’s colleague Stacy Gardella, Vice President of Brand Marketing for Illinois-based WernerCo, also spoke of the three points of contact that a ladder climber must maintain. This means two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand on the ladder while climbing. She remarked, “DIYers don’t get on ladders quite as often as those on job sites. So, they forget the rules or they do unnecessary reaching. A lot of the new products coming out like podium ladders, you can use your waist as the third point of contact because they have guard rails.”

            Finally, there is the little, but still very important matter of coming back down and getting off the ladder. Lingerfelt concluded, “The No. 1 incident that leads to so many injuries is missing the last step. We’ve had more issues of people getting hurt like that than any other. You’re in a hurry. You’re not thinking about it. And you just miss it. That last step.”

Safety After Reaching the Top

By Teddy Durgin

           You’ve chosen the right ladder. You’ve taken all the right safety precautions before even stepping foot on it for the first time. And you have done everything right while climbing the ladder. You’ve reached your destination. The top. Guess what? Safety should still be top of mind even then.

            So says a trio of industry professionals interviewed for this fourth and final blog article to mark National Ladder Safety Month. Again, it’s important to remember the basics. All three interviewees stressed maintaining three points of contact – two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand on the ladder at all times.

            Chad Lingerfelt, National Safety Training Manager for WernerCo, was the most forceful. “Maintain your three points of contact!” he urged. “If I was teaching my class, I would have a bunch of screws. I’d put one in my mouth, one in my hand, and I’d also hold a drill. That’s the No. 1 bad thing that happens. People reach over and try to drill, or they reach back for screws, or they try to also hold a hammer or nails. That’s too much. You have to keep those three points of contact.”

            Safety at the top is important for homeowners and amateur do-it-yourselfers, as well as for professionals operating a ladder on a work site. Dave Francis, National Safety Director for Little Giant Ladder Systems, LLC, preaches common sense. He stated, “With a homeowner, you’re not going to see the same level of fall protection. Usually, a person is going on their roof to get a job done. They need to clean a window or take down decorations or grab a Frisbee that’s been up there a couple of months. The important thing with homeowners is . . . do the project before you start drinking for the weekend! If you can’t drive, don’t climb. Wear the shoes that you would wear on a job. Don’t go up on flip-flops.”

            He added, “On a job, if you are transitioning from a ladder onto anything above six feet, you’re going to need to be tied off. If you are going up there to do any kind of work, you need to transition into fall protection. This means either a guard rail around the perimeter or some sort of anchor point. On the bigger jobs that have safety officers, they’re going to have harnesses and lanyards and fall protection with harnesses built into their job. That’s the right way to do it.”

            Michael Van Bree, Director of Product Safety and Engineering at Louisville Ladder, concluded with some additional common-sense advice: “Your contact with the ladder is important not only while climbing, but also while working. To that end, the top step and the top cap of a stepladder are not suitable standing surfaces. The reason for that is those upper couple of feet of the ladder are there for your body support. You don’t want to balance on just your two feet. You want to support your body against the ladder, as well.”