You may not think of cleaning out the gutters as a high-risk task, but the fact is that any job around the house that involves climbing a ladder has the potential for injury. Statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission show that each year there are more than 164,000 emergency room-treated injuries in the United States relating to ladders.
In the fall season, many homeowners are getting outside to clean leaves and needles as summer comes to a close. This commonly involves breaking out the ladder (or getting a new ladder that excels at gutter cleaning) and climbing on the roof. We want you to be safe this fall season so that you can enjoy the cooler weather and beautiful fall colors.
“There is a potential for injury any time someone climbs a ladder,” says Jeffrey Smith, MD, of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA). “While setting up and using a ladder may seem like a simple, everyday task, there are definitely safe and unsafe ways to do it.”
To help avoid injuries due to falls from ladders, the AAOS has developed the following tips for staying safe on a ladder:
- Make sure your ladder is sturdy and in good shape. Before using it, inspect it for any loose screws, hinges or rungs that you might not have fixed before you put it away last time. Clean off any mud or other liquids that might have accumulated on the ladder.
- Be sure to place the ladder on a firm, level surface. Never place a ladder on ground that is uneven or on spongy, soft or muddy ground. Likewise, during colder weather, never set your ladder on slippery, frozen spots.
- Take reasonable safety precautions. Make sure to engage the ladder locks or braces before you climb. If you’re working outside, make sure the ladder will not hit electrical wires, tree limbs or any other obstructions when it is extended.
- Remember the 1-to-4 rule: The bottom of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet that the ladder rises. For example, if the ladder touches the wall 16 feet above the ground, the feet of the ladder should be 4 feet from the wall. If you are going to climb onto a roof, the ladder should extend at least 3 feet higher than the roof. If you’re using an extension ladder, the upper and lower sections should overlap to provide stability.
- Always reposition the ladder closer to the work. Over reaching or leaning far to one side when you’re on the ladder could make you lose your balance and fall. Your belly button should not go beyond the sides of the ladder.
- Wear proper footwear. Ditch the leather-soled shoes when using a ladder – they’re too slippery. And make sure your shoelaces are tied and the soles of your shoes are free of any greasy, oily or wet substances. Pant legs shouldn’t be too wide or too long.
- Get help if you need it. Ask someone to hold the ladder while you climb, stay in the center of the ladder as you climb and always hold the side rails with both hands.