Not everyone feels at ease working high up a ladder. The view from the top looking down can seem a lot further away than when you are looking up, especially if you are not a regular user. When you work high up, the last thing you want to experience is the ladder slipping sideways.
So making your extension ladder setup as safe as possible is an excellent way to ensure you work more comfortably and reliably and do so with more confidence.
Like many things in life, it’s proper preparation that gets a job done correctly, and setting up a ladder is no exception.
When using my extension ladder, I make sure that it is stable at both the base and at the top, and that I do not have to keep going down and back up the ladder for tools and materials, any more than is necessary.
So let us look at the base first.
Set the angle
When positioning your ladder, make sure you have set the angle correctly. If the feet are too close to the work area, the ladder will be too vertical and be more likely to tip you over backward.
If the feet of the ladder are too far out, then undue pressure will be put on the central part of the ladder, which could buckle or the feet could slip further away backward.
A general rule of thumb is to position the base of the ladder one foot away from the surface you align it to, for every four feet in working height.
Level the feet
The feet of the ladder need to rest firmly on the ground, so the ladder is set upright. You do not want it leaning to one side when resting against the structure on which you will be working.
If you are going to use the ladder on a hard surface, make sure the feet are clean and get a good grip. If you are using a rigid extension ladder, the feet have swivel shoes. The non-slip rubber shoe is for a hard surface.
If the ground is soft, twist the shoes so the spur ends can dig into the ground for a firmer footing.
If the ground setting is uneven and sloping, or if a step or two are at that base point, you’ve got a problem. The ladder needs to be vertical to be stable. Any makeshift attempt at leveling a ladder with blocks or bricks is not just foolish. It’s dangerous. So this is where leg levelers come into their own.
You fit a leg leveler to the rails at the foot of the ladder. They enable a leg on either side of the ladder to extend so the ladder can be erected upright and not leaning to one side.
You fit base units to the bottom of each of the rails, and the leveler leg can then be used on either side, as needed.
Here are some examples:
An alternative is the adjustable base platform for use on stairs:
Stabilize the top of the ladder
Once you have a secure and stable footing turn your attention to the top of the ladder, you will need to ensure that it can’t slide to either side.
There are several ways of doing this.
You can fit end caps to the top of the ladder. These fit easily over ladder rail ends. They help improve stability by increasing ladder grip. They also help protect the work surface from getting scratched.
Alternatively, you can fit a stabilizer to the top rung, which makes the ladder stand off from the work area. It spreads the bearing points at the top of the ladder, which improves stability.
Stabilizers also enable a ladder to be erected in front of a window without leaning on the glass. The stabilizer bears the ladder against the walls on either side. They can also rest on shingles with the ladder held away from the guttering. You can adjust the span or depth with some stabilizers or lean your ladder against the corner of a building.
You can tie the top of the ladder to a suitable anchor point for additional safety. Rope it to the fascia if possible, or use any part of the structure you are working on to provide extra stability.
Whenever you step off the ladder at the top, there is the added risk it will move. To lessen the chance of this happening, you can fit extension handles. These will let you step straight through on to the roof, and not have to swing yourself sideways.
When you ensure your ladder is upright and stable at both the base and the top, you create a safer ladder working environment in which to complete your maintenance jobs.
Carry your tools with you
When working up a ladder, it is good practice to have the tools you need close to hand. A useful way to do this is to carry all you need in a belt.
By using a tool belt, you’ll have all your equipment readily accessible at all times. It helps keep unnecessary body movement to a minimum, and you’ll be able to spend more time at the job with less time wasted fetching more tools.
Use a project or paint tray
Another useful way to organize yourself is to attach a project tray to the top of the ladder. These can store fasteners or hardware you’ll need as well as more tools. They can be useful when used as a ladder paint tray.
These are not solely associated with the setting up of a ladder, but they help to maintain stability when you are in a working position and contribute to safer working practice.
You will make your ladder work easier and safer when you follow these simple precautions.