Virtually everybody in Australia was shocked when Molly Meldrum severely hurt himself by falling off a ladder a few years ago. And while most of us think, ‘That couldn’t happen to me because I am careful!’, it is actually a very common accident, with around 2000 Australians annually requiring hospitalisation and sadly, five of these people don’t survive. Most of these accidents involve men who were working around their home, rather than in employment-related incidents. I think that these statistics make the message around using ladders really clear:
If you don’t know what you are doing, or are physically unfit, then it is a whole lot better to get someone who is better equipped to do the job. However, assuming that you are physically capable, and have a head for heights, the following tips should help you to stay safe:
1. Make sure that you are using the right kind of ladder for the job. It needs to be tall enough so that you can easily reach whatever it is that you want to work on, but not so tall that the bottom might kick out from under you when you reach the top.
2. Unless you are using a step ladder, remember that ladders are designed to lean. i.e. they should be on a slant, not too much of a slant, but certainly not too vertical.
3. Inspect your site before you stand up the ladder by looking for potential hazards, such as electrical wires, uneven or sloping ground, trees etc. Do a safety plan, even if it is just in your head, so that you are thinking about the process and staying safe while you are still on the ground.
4. Dogs can be a different and often unexpected potential hazard with ladders because lots of dogs don’t like seeing people up in the air when they are used to you being on the ground. They can get excited or distressed and knock-over the ladder. Unless your dog is very placid, it’s a good idea to lock it up before you start climbing.
5. Most ladders have rubber or serrated aluminium feet that help keep the bottom of the ladder where you put it – i.e. it helps to stop the ladder from sliding when you climb it. But if you have to put it on a very smooth surface, it pays to have another adult sit on the second to bottom rung to hold it steady.
6. Don’t leave ladders unattended in case kids climb them. Even 2 or 3-year olds can be attracted to climbing upwards, but might not be so good at climbing down again.
7. Wear suitable footwear. Thongs and bare feet don’t qualify as being suitable, but instead wear sneakers or other shoes with soft rubber soles that have good grip and fit well.
8. Don’t wear clothes with sleeves or pants legs that are so loose that they could get caught on the top of the ladder, branches, or anything that you are working alongside. Similarly, don’t wear a wide brimmed hat that could block your view, resulting in you falling or catching your clothes on something.
9. When using a step ladder, including extendable models, make sure that all of the braces are engaged. Step ladders have a nasty habit of collapsing when they are not braced.
10. If you are planning on working from the ladder, such as painting or cleaning your gutter, tie the top of the ladder to a gutter bracket or roofing screw. An alternative to this is to use an ocky strap. First of all hook it under the gutter roll on one side of the ladder, then around and through the ladder before hooking it onto the gutter on the other side of the ladder. If you don’t do this the ladder can move or even fall, which can potentially leave you trapped on the roof until someone stands up the ladder again, or you might hurt yourself if it slides while you are still standing on it.
11. Don’t lean out too far to paint that extra inch or reach a handful of leaves that are a little too far away, but instead frequently move the ladder. This tip might seem like a waste of time, but it can help you to stay safe.
12. A diving bird is really off-putting when you are busy working off a ladder, so it’s probably better not to clean gutters if magpies, noisy miners and butcher birds are nesting near your house.
13. Remember that getting from the ladder onto the roof is always easier than getting from the roof back onto the ladder. The rung that you step off onto the roof will be the rung that you step back onto when you get off the roof.