Over the holidays, many of you will be putting up decorations inside and outside your homes. During this time of year, I see a lot of patients with injuries related to ladder use. Ladders can be very helpful when putting up decorations, but improper use could land you in the emergency room if you aren’t careful.
If you are planning on using a ladder while putting up or taking down your holiday decorations, read these safety tips first. No one wants to spend Christmas in a cast.
1. Choose the right ladder for the task.
Your ladder needs to be tall enough for you to easily reach the area you want to work on. If your are still straining to reach the area even while you are on the ladder, it is too short. Your ladder also needs to be able to hold your “working load”—your weight, plus the weight of any decorations and/or tools that you’ll be taking up the ladder with you. Most household ladders are only designed to hold a maximum weight of 200lbs. Commercial and industrial ladders will usually hold between 225 - 300lbs. Be sure to check the weight limit on your ladders before using them.
2. Inspect your ladder for damage before using it.
This is especially important if you haven’t used your ladder recently, but you really should make it a habit to inspect your ladder every time you use it. Look for things like loose screws, hinges, or rungs, and make sure that there are no broken or bent parts on the ladder. If you see any signs of damage, even if the damage seems minor, do not use the ladder, and do not attempt a do-it-yourself repair. You should also clean your ladder to make sure there is no mud, oil, or debris that could cause you to slip while using your ladder.
3. Set up your ladder correctly.
If you are using a stepladder, make sure that it is open completely and locked into place. If you are using a taller ladder, remember the 4 to 1 rule: the bottom of the ladder should be one foot away from the wall for every 4 feet of height on the ladder. If you need to climb up onto the roof, the top end of the ladder should extend 3 feet higher than the edge of the roof. You should only set up your ladder on even, stable ground. Do not set up your ladder on ground that is soft, muddy, or uneven. If you are using a stepladder, do not attempt to place it on countertops, boxes, or other surfaces to lift it off the ground.
4. Climb the ladder correctly.
Do not turn away from the ladder while climbing. Face the ladder, staying in the center of the rails, and grip the rails with both hands. Have someone nearby to spot you, but do not allow more than one person on the ladder at a time. Never stand on the top rung of the ladder. If you have to reach too far overhead or to the side, move the ladder; leaning could make you lose your balance. As a rule of thumb, your belly button should never go past the side of the ladder.
5. Pay attention to other factors that could increase your likelihood of injury.
Dirty or muddy shoes could cause you to slip. If possible, use rubber-soled or non-slip shoes to reduce your chance of slipping. Make sure your shoelaces are tied tightly, and avoid wearing very loose pants that could get caught on the ladder while you are climbing. Avoid ladder use in high winds. Do not climb a ladder if you have been drinking, are prone to fainting, or take medications that make you dizzy or drowsy.
Have fun putting up your decorations, but stay safe! Don’t let a preventable injury ruin your holiday fun!