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Home Fix: How to prevent ladder falls

C. Dwight Barnett
Tribune News Service

Due to recent events, I thought it would be a good time to remind you about ladder safety.

The lights are up, but soon you will be taking them down and the weather may not be as cooperative as it has been. A friend of mine related the story of a relative that fell from a ladder while hanging Christmas decorations. Two shattered ankles later, the person is now unable to work due to debilitating injuries and is unable to contribute to the continuing success of the company.

With all my years of experience, I had a ladder slip from under me, but I was fortunate enough that I came away with only a few bruises. Falling from a ladder can be career ending or even deadly. Unfortunately there are an estimated 300 deaths and 130,000 ladder-related injuries reported in the U.S. each year, according to the University of Missouri.

To be safe, read and follow all the labeled instructions and warnings attached to the ladder you choose. I am including some additional warnings and safety tips I have researched over the years.

Inspect the ladder before each use. A damaged side rail could cause the ladder to fail or a damaged rung could result in a fall. Make sure that all locking mechanisms are working properly. Keep your ladders away from all overhead wiring.

A ladder’s feet should be set against a solid level surface at an angle of 4 feet in 1 foot. For every 4 feet of ladder height, the base should be no more than 1 foot from the surface it is leaning against. Extension ladders used to access a roof must extend at least 3 feet above the roof. When climbing, always face the ladder and use both hands on the rungs, not the side rails.

Use a ladder with nonskid feet or spurs to prevent the ladder from slipping on a hard smooth surface. You can secure the base of the ladder by driving stakes and tying the ladder to them or by blocking the base against movement. A mature helper stationed under the ladder can also prevent movement.

Do not stand on any of the top three rungs of a ladder and never stand on top of a stepladder. When high up on an extension ladder do not lean too far to either side which could cause the ladder to move sideways. Do not use a ladder in a strong wind or over an unlocked entry door. There should not be more than one person at a time on a ladder.

Stepladders should be opened securely. A stepladder is not designed to be used when closed and then leaned against a structure. Serious falls have occurred from the smallest of the one-step stepladders.

C. Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or e-mail him at