How To Make Ladder Working Easier and Safer
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, if you’re not a regular user. When you're working high up, the last thing you want to experience is the sensation of the ladder slipping sideways.
So making your extension ladder setup as safe as possible, is a good way to ensure you work easier and safer, and with more confidence.
Like many things in life it’s good preparation that gets a job done properly, 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 don’t have to keep going down and back up the ladder for tools and materials, any more than is necessary.
So let’s 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 backwards.
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 backwards.
A general rule of thumb is to position the base of the ladder one foot away from the surface you are aligning it to, for every four feet in height you will be working at.
Level the feet
The feet of the ladder need to rest firmly on the ground so the ladder is set upright. You don’t want it leaning to one side when it is resting against the structure you’ll be working on.
If the ladder is to be set on a hard surface, make sure the treads of the swivel shoes are clean to ensure you get good grip. If the ground is soft, twist the shoes so the spur ends can dig into the ground for a firmer footing.
Now if the ground where you are setting up on 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 set upright 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 be extended so the ladder can be erected upright and not leaning to one side.
Examples are shown in the images below:
Base units are fitted to the bottom of each of the rails, and the leveler leg can then be used on either side, as needed.
Stabilize the top of the ladder
Once you have a secure and stable footing turn your attention to the top of the ladder. You need to ensure that it is upright and that it can’t slide to either side.
There are a number of 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.
- A stabilizer can be fitted to the top rung. This makes the ladder stand off from the work area, and spreads the bearing points at the top of the ladder, which improves stability.
Ladder stabilizers also enable a ladder to be erected in front of a window without leaning on the glass, as the stabilizer legs bear the ladder against the walls on either side. They can also rest on shingles with the ladder held away from guttering. Some stabilizers are adjustable, and some are designed to be used at 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 stability.
- If you intend to work on the roof, there is an added risk that the ladder might move as your weight is transferred sideways from ladder to roof. In these situations it would be preferable to step straight on to the roof through extension handles fitted to the top of the rails. These are also available as a ladder accessory.
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. The best way to do this is to carry your tools in a belt.
By using a tool belt you’ll have all your equipment readily accessible at all times. This helps keep unnecessary body movement to a minimum. 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. This can be be used to store fasteners or hardware you’ll need as well as more tools. They can be useful when used as a ladder paint tray.
Whilst these are not directly associated with the setting up of a ladder, they do help to maintain stability when you are in a working position, and contribute to safer working practice.