The Importance of Ladder Safety

Each year, about 50 construction workers are killed by falls from ladders. More than half of the deaths occur to people working from ladders. Twice as many falls occur stepping or climbing down compared to going up ladders. The main cause of falls from straight and extension ladders is sliding of the ladder base.  Further, statistics show that 95% of all incidents involving ladders are the result of the unsafe acts of users.
Probably the most important thing any roofing contractor can do is to select a quality ladder. However, using a top quality ladder is only the first step toward overall ladder safety. Proper set up and usage, as well as regular servicing of your ladder — including thorough inspection and periodic maintenance — are all key to the prevention of ladder related incidents.

Because the majority of roofers rely on straight ladders, we will focus on that style of ladder.
Straight and Extension Ladders require support at both top and bottom. They are very versatile and available in a variety of sizes ranging from 16 to 60 feet in length. Probably the most vulnerable hazard with a straight ladder is “kick out”.


How to Avoid Ladder Kick Out:

For Straight and extension ladders the correct set-up angle-from horizontal is approximately 76-degrees.  However, 5-degrees either way of 76-degrees is generally OK. At 76-degrees, the anti-slip feet of the ladder provide the maximum resistance to sudden outward “kick-out” of the ladder feet. Angles steeper than 80-degrees expose the user to falling over backwards;
while, at angles shallower than 70-degrees, “kick-out” force intensifies perilously.
Ladders “kick-out” when the slip-resistance provided by the ladder feet, is exceeded by an opposing force that intensifies as a user ascends a ladder.

“Kick-out” can occur for one or more of the following:

• Ladder is set up at too shallow an angle from horizontal.
• Ladder-foot friction pads are worn, missing, oily, or wet.
• Underfoot surface is slippery, icy, wet, oily, loose, etc.
• User climbed beyond the ladder upper support point.

Opposing slip-resistance is a frictional force dependent upon the combined weight of ladder and user; type and condition of the rubber foot-pads; and, type and condition of the surface underfoot.  If the user climbs higher than available friction allows, the ladder feet suddenly and irreversibly, accelerate outward under the force of gravity.

The 1:4 Rule:
The feet of a straight or extension ladder should be set at a point one foot horizontally outward from the upper support, for every four feet of vertical distance between the ladder feet and the upper support point.  One simple way of determining this is by having your arms extended out in front of you, while your feet are at the base of the ladder. *

Ladder Inspection:

General Ladder Inspection:

• Make sure the feet work and are not broken – and slip-resistant pads on the feet are secure.
• Inspect ladder parts for cracks, bends, splits, or corrosion.
• Check all rung and step connections.
• Make sure rung locks and spreader braces are working.
• On extension ladders, make sure the rope and pulley work and the rope is not frayed.
• All bolts and rivets should be secure.
• All rung locks and other movable parts should be oiled or greased.
• Make sure the steps, rungs and other ladder parts are free of oil, grease, and other materials.

Like any equipment, your ladder requires periodic preventive maintenance.
The entire ladder should be cleaned on a regular basis, and moving parts should be kept clean and lightly lubricated.   Slide guides and safety feet should be replaced if worn and the rope assembly replaced at least once a year. In order to maintain the maximum dielectric properties of fiberglass ladders, they should be regularly cleaned with mild detergent and water and waxed with an exterior quality paste wax.  The wax helps to keep water and dirt out of scratches and gouges that might otherwise reduce surface dielectric properties.

Resistance to the use of safety equipment is due to a lack of understanding.  Picture your loved ones 10 years from now. Picture the circumstances they might be living under if you become a victim of a serious roofing accident – an accident that could have been avoided had you used the appropriate safety measures.
Talk to a roofer who has fallen, preferably someone who was using safety equipment at the time. Ask him or her what they thought about safety before and after the fall. The initial cost of starting a safety program is recouped after the first accident, if there is an accident.

*NOTE: neither or its authors are responsible for any injury that may happen as the direct result of following the recommendations as noted. .  Everyone should carefully read the instructions and safety precautions for the specific ladder that you use.