Improper ladder use causes injuries

  • Published
  • By Vincent Duny
  • Air Force Flight Test Center Ground Safety office
How far do you have to fall to suffer an injury? It can happen at floor level. However, most injuries occur due to falls from a height, and typically it's from using a ladder improperly. 

Ladders are very useful tools; and by their very nature, not dangerous when used properly. Most falls happen because people choose the wrong type of ladder for the task, forcing them to overreach the intended target. 

Since 2002, the Air Force has experienced around 218 injuries resulting in lost time at work; one resulted in a fatality because the individual's foot slipped off the rung causing the ladder to shift. 

It is important that you always use an appropriate ladder for the task at hand. For example, for electrical work, never use a metal ladder. Try a wooden ladder (provided it's dry and clean) or a fiberglass ladder. 

Most likely, you don't use your ladder every day or even every month. When it is time to break out the ladder, keep in mind some basic safety practices: 

  • Inspect the ladder for any damage or defects before you climb up 
  • Check all rungs for security 
  • If equipped with a rope, look for signs of wear or fraying 
  • Look for lose or missing hardware 
  • When using an extension ladder, overlap the mating sections by a minimum of three feet for maximum rigidity 
  • Ensure the extension ladder extends three feet above the roofline for security and safe, easy access 
  • Place the bottom part of an extension ladder one foot away from a structure for every four feet it reaches up. For example, if you extend your ladder up 20 feet, be sure the bottom is out a minimum of five feet from the structure 
  • Never stand above the third rung from the top of an extension ladder or the second step from the top of a stepladder 
  • Always face the ladder and ensure both hands grasp the rails when you ascend or descend 
  • Be sure the ladder is on a firm, level foundation
Most household ladders are meant to support one person and hold up to 200 pounds; so be sure that the ladder you use can tolerate the weight. 

There are many types and lengths of portable ladders. Be sure to read the manufacturer's label on the ladder before buying it. This way, you'll know you're stepping off on the right foot before you begin the climb.