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Most of the articles you have read in the Leading Edge likely were not immediately applicable to you at a personal level. It's true that most of us drive a car, and hence accident reconstruction is personally relevant, but let's be honest, most of us would prefer to think that it's the other guy who gets into car accidents, no us! I believe the same logic would apply to other topics we regularly discuss: environmental issues, product failures, fires, etc.

I sincerely hope that this article, which is a straightforward discussion about using the common ladder, will be taken both personally and seriously, for reasons soon to be explained.

There are many different types of portable ladder: straight ladder, extension ladder, cherry or spike ladder, standard stepladder, two-way stepladder, platform stepladder, trestle ladder, etc. The most common and familiar ladders being the straight, extension and step ladders. In fact, most readers likely own one or more of these common types, and most probably are all too familiar with the use of them in household chores (painting, wallpapering, cleaning windows, hanging Christmas lights, etc.). But…are you aware of the serious and sometimes tragic consequences which can arise out of the use of this simple and common tool? Consequences like broken limbs, severe head trauma and even death? We have seen and investigated incidents which involved consequences similar to these, and for the most part, the injured parties were not individuals who you would normally expect to be involved in these incidents, like construction workers, powerline workers, or professional window cleaners. They were individuals performing simple household tasks.

Hopefully at this point I have your attention! Some of the incidents we have seen may have been the result of problems with the ladder itself. Not withstanding this, in order to reduce the possibility that you might become one of these statistics, you should follow a few standard precautions, some of which are listed at the end of this article. Please note that these precautions are for most typical household situations using common straight, extension and/or step ladders, not for industrial, commercial or other professional situations, where more rigorous and complex safety precautions are warranted. For a more complete list of ladder do's and don'ts, contact the Ministry of Labour or the Canadian Standards Association. There are various grades of ladder, ranging from light duty (Grade III) to heavy duty (Grade I). The ladder most commonly found in a typical household is a light duty, aluminum steplader, which can be purchased for approximately $50. The incidents we have seen involve a greater proportion of light duty ladders than any other grade. If CSA approved, this grade of ladder should be good enough for typical light duty chores, if the maximum working load is not exceeded, but you must remember that this is still the lowest grade. A light duty (Grade III) stepladder is rated for a maximum working load of 200 pounds (91kg). This includes the user, tools, materials, etc. Many people weigh more than this, and should thus use a better grade of ladder.


Some Ladder Do's and Don'ts

  1. Inspect your ladder(s) for grease, oil, dents, nicks, cracks, etc., some of which could reduce its stability and/or lad carrying capacity. The most common household ladders today are made of lightweight aluminum, so even the smallest cut, nick or kink could significantly reduce the safety of the ladder. Since these ladders are relatively inexpensive, repair costs (if repair is possible) likely outweigh the cost of replacement. If you decide that your ladder is not safe to use, dispose of it - if you leave it tucked away in your garage, someone else (family member, neighbour, etc.) may borrow it and become injured if it fails.
  2. If you are using your ladder around the house, and you have small children around, don't leave the ladder set up. If you aren't using it - fold it up and put it out of the way, to avoid the frightening prospect of an adventurous child climbing it and falling off.
  3. Choose the right ladder for the task. If you are cleaning leaves out of an eavestrough, you probably can't use a stepladder, as it likely wouldn't be high enough. Also, make sure that the load rating is not exceeded.
  4. Set the ladder up properly. If it's a stepladder, ensure it is on a flat, level and stable surface, with the legs fully extended and spreader bars engaged, and don't stand on the top or the first step below the top of the ladder, or as otherwise directed by the manufacturer. If it's a straight or extension ladder, the bottom must be on level and sable ground, and out a horizontal distance of 1/4 the height to where the upper portion of the ladder is positioned. The top and bottom should be secured, if possible, to prevent slipping sideways. If you can, have someone hold the ladder, especially if you are up high. At all times, follow the manufacturer's instructions on proper use.
  5. Don't set up any ladder in a location where a door, a vehicle, or some other object may accidentally come into contact with the ladder and knock it over.
  6. Climb the ladder properly and descend it properly: face the ladder, grasp the side rails with both hands, and don't carry up awkward or heavy loads with you - raise them up with a hand line or hoist.


Have fun hanging those lights!

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