by Chris Missler RN, BSN, NREMTP

The weather is getting cooler outside and time to take care of some projects around your home. Maybe you are going to work with the Christmas lights, do some roof work, or painting. Many of these projects will involve the use of ladders. So let us talk about ladder safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are approximately 500,000 people that injure themselves falling from a roof or ladder and more than 300 die every year. Nationally an estimated 81 percent of all patient falls treated in the emergency room involve the use of a step stool or ladder.  Falls are the number one injury in our area too, and yes, step stools and ladders are a major cause. Did you also know that the estimated cost of ladder injuries alone in the United States total $24 billion, which includes loss of time from work and medical bills? Please do not be that next victim.

When you are evaluating what you need to accomplish your job around the house or jobsite please consider the tools and equipment that you need to safely do your task. Think about this:

  • Will I need to be moving heavy items up or down the ladder?
  • Will I need to reach over the side to get what I need to reach?
  • Is the ground not level or unstable?
  • Do I need a longer ladder?

If you answered yes to any of those questions you might want to reconsider doing the job at that time and think about other more suitable equipment to use like scaffolding or using a lift.

If you decided that the step stool or ladder is the right piece of equipment, please make sure that you follow all of the safety warnings on it. Now that you have retrieved your ladder, please make sure that your equipment is safe to use and examine it for loose, cracked, broken, or missing rungs. Make sure the ladder is not showing any obvious signs of damage. If it is, safely dispose of the ladder immediately. If you decide to use a step stool or folding ladder, please make sure to open it fully and make sure that all the brackets are securely locked into place before use.   All ladders have weight safety limits on there labels. Remember, this limit is your weight plus the tools and materials that you are using while on the ladder.

Now, it is time to start working on your project. Please make sure that you have your ladder on a stable and level surface. You don’t play sports in slippers and flip-flops so please don’t wear them while on a ladder or step stool and make sure that you wear proper foot attire. You need to wear a shoe that has an even, non-slip, flat sole. Another item to remember is to make sure that you prevent passerby’s from walking under your ladder. Please secure your work environment before you start to work. This might mean placing a sign on a door or putting up a barricade. This little time that you spend before you start might mean the difference of completing your job or meeting me in the emergency room. You also want to remember to never carry equipment or materials up or down a ladder but rather have someone hand them to you. With that in mind always maintain three points of contact with the ladder at all times and keep your weight centered between the side rails. What that means is one hand and two feet, or two hands and one foot at ALL TIMES and never lean back. Therefore, if you need help ask someone, they could serve as your assistant and your lookout. They can also provide you with company to make the task seem so much faster.

I have given you a bunch of rules but I have saved the best for last. If you are prone to dizziness, or feel dizzy, please do not utilize a ladder or step stool. Remember that ground will probably hurt when you hit it. Also remember some meds and alcohol might affect your ability to safely work around this equipment. I care very much about you and for your safety so please do not work on a ladder and take medications or drink alcohol. They can cause you to alter your ability to safely work on a ladder. I cannot tell you how many times I hear, “But I only had two drinks” or “I always take that medicine”, thus affecting their ability to safely work on the equipment and causing them to fall from the ladder. Please remember ladders are tools and there are rules and please follow them and work safe.