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Take Safety To New Heights

You're suspended in the air. The only thing that separates you from a free fall is a thin strip of wood. Would you take the risk? Thousands do every day and never give it a thought. Unfortunately ladder accidents are all too common. The good news is that most ladder accidents are preventable. Usually ladder accidents are caused by improper positioning, worn or damaged ladders and failure to secure the ladder.

Use the proper ladder

For unusual or one-time jobs, consider the type of work, and the length and strength of the ladder needed. Ladders are labeled with duty ratings. Type I, the industrial class, holds 250 pounds; Type II is for medium-weight loads up to 225 pounds; Type III, household ladders, are rated for up to 200 pounds. When you choose a ladder, look for the rating and don't exceed its limits; that includes any tools or materials you use as well.

If you work around electrical wires, don't use a metal ladder. A number of accidents occur each year because power lines and equipment wires brush against metal ladders. Always use a dry wooden or non-conductive fiberglass ladder in these situations.

Look at the ladders

The bottom step of all ladders should be reinforced with metal angle braces, and wooden ladders require braces under each step. These braces should be securely attached to the step and the side rail. Make sure the metal spreader on a stepladder is sturdy and it locks in place when open.

Metal ladders, either straight or step, need rubber or plastic feet as well as slip-resistant step coverings. Step coverings are also a good idea on wooden ladders. In all cases, the treads should be wide enough to spread your feet for balance. A step width of 3 1/2 inches or more is required on stepladders.

Before you use any ladder, either at home or work, inspect it for loose or bent rungs and steps. An attached rung that revolves may seem solid, but if it twists unexpectedly under your weight, you could lose your balance and fall. Check wooden and plastic ladders for cracked, warped or chipped side rails and steps; metal ladders for sharp edges and bent or stressed parts. Replace any missing parts and tighten any loose hardware. Don't try to repair major structural damage to a ladder.

Some ladder basics

Once you find the right ladder, the next step in ladder safety is proper use. You shouldn't set up ladders in front of doors or in traffic patterns; if you must, make sure the area is properly guarded, locked or barricaded.

Always position a ladder on a firm, flat surface. Use a board so the ladder doesn't sink into soft ground, and don't use ladders in a strong wind. Never use boxes or other such items to add height.

Your stepladder should be fully open and the spreaders locked securely before you use it. Never stand on the top platform or top step of the ladder. Never use a stepladder as a straight ladder. Before you climb an extension ladder, test the ropes, pulleys and hooks. Even a rope that looks good can give way with one good tug. Ensure that the hooks that attach the upper and lower section of the ladder are locked in place.

For every 4 feet of height between the bottom of an extension ladder and the top point of support, move the base of the ladder 1 foot away from the wall. (Most rungs are 1 foot apart.) This 4:1 ratio is important because if the angle is too steep, you can fall backwards; if it's too horizontal, the ladder may break or slip out from underneath you.

The higher you go on an extension ladder, the more likely the ladder will slip because of the lack of weight at the bottom. In any straight-ladder application, never climb beyond the third rung from the top. The best assurance is to tie-off the ladder at the top, and hold or stake it at the bottom.

When you go up or down a ladder, be sure to face it. Hold onto the side rails or the rungs with both hands. Carry your tools on your belt, and use lines to raise heavier equipment. Be sure your shoes and hands are clean and dry. If you use power equipment on a ladder, you must securely tie-off the ladder.

One of the most dangerous ladder hazards is to over-reach. Always keep your body centered between the rails. If you feel too lazy to climb down and move the ladder, ask yourself if those last few inches are worth a fall.

Source: Today's Supervisor

Author: Kathy Bold