Choosing the right ladder for the right job

On any job, the right tools make all the difference, and that includes choosing the appropriate ladder.  Ladders are commonly manufactured from three materials: aluminum, wood, or fiberglass.  Although aluminum is recognized as the most durable material, the fact that aluminum is an electrical conductor limits use to non-electrical jobs.  If neglected and left to the elements, wood ladders are prone to rot.  Fiberglass was introduced as the best combination of durability and non-conductivity, but is also the most expensive investment.  Make sure your ladder is of sufficient weight rating and height for the selected job.

Lean into it

A ladder that has been in storage for any extended amount of time needs to be thoroughly inspected for cracks or broken joints before use.  Place your ladder on a stable, even, flat surface.  Never place a ladder on top of another object.  Using the 1:4 ratio ensures a stable, working platform.  The ratio dictates placing the base of the ladder 1 foot away from vertical surface for every 4 feet of height to the point where the ladder contacts at the top.

Best step forward

When using an A-frame stepladder, remember to lock the brace securely into place.  If using the ladder to access a higher surface, the ladder must extend at least three feet past the platform to which you’ve climbed.  Secure tall ladders by lashing or fastening the ladder to prevent movement.  Common sense should always direct proper usage, such as facing the ladder when climbing or descending.  Both feet should be kept on the ladder; one foot on the ladder rung and the other foot on an adjacent surface may make for great movie slapstick, but is downright dangerous in real life.  Rules of physics apply to ladders- climbing higher than the second rung on stepladders or the third rung on straight or extension ladders will cause the ladder to topple.  Standing on the very top, or worse- the paint shelf, is a formula for disaster.    Leaving ladders unattended is often too tempting for children to ignore.  Taking a few moments to properly return ladders to storage could save a trip to the emergency room.

Check twice, climb once

Ladders need to be inspected regularly.  Stepladders and extension ladders should be inspected for broken or frozen joints or latches.  Cracks and broken welds are safety issues for aluminum ladders.  Wood ladders should be inspected for cracked wood, splinters, and rot.   Before use, check entire surface for broken or loose hardware.   Linseed oil or clear sealant can be applied to keep wood ladders protected from cracks and rot.  Paint should never be used on a wooden ladder as it may hide imperfections which pose a safety risk.  If fiberglass ladders protected with a clear sealant show damage, a light sanding is the recommended preparation prior to applying another coat of lacquer.  Proper handling and care for ladders as you would any other tool guarantees optimal performance and safety.