Ladder Safety Tips While Painting

According to Ameri­can safety statistics, 93,000 people are hurt every year fall­ing off ladders, and 21,000 construction accidents involve the improper use of ladders. In the U.S., an average of 540 workers die falling off ladders in construction-related work every year, and 18 are painters. Tens of thousands of workers suffer serious, life- changing injuries in ladder accidents. Almost all ladder falls for painters are a result of the “lazy-man’s reach.” We’ve all done it; when you say to yourself, “if I can reach out just another inch, I won’t have to move the ladder,” and end up in the bushes 20 feet below.

Your first consideration when looking for a ladder is its classification. Light (house­hold), medium (commercial) or heavy duty (industrial) usage are the most com­mon. Most painting ladders are light or medium-duty grade. Heavy-duty ladders are bulky and heavy, some weighing more than twice that of a light-duty ladder.

When shopping for a ladder, think worst-case usage. Be sure to get several extensions for clamping on the side of ladders so you are able to work safely on stairs or uneven ground. Light-duty ladders of any kind are easiest to carry, but not the best for painters. Commercial-grade ladders can withstand the everyday use and constant wear and tear a painter demands. A light- duty stepladder is usually only rated for 200 pounds, which is no problem— if you only weigh 150 pounds. A medium-duty ladder, on the other hand, is often rated up to 250 pounds. Naturally, the heavier gauge aluminum in medium-duty ladders will not bend or crack nearly as easy as lighter products. And forget wood ladders. They are considerably less sturdy than aluminum. Fiberglass ladders are sturdiest of all, but also the heaviest of any grade and most painters consider the extra weight riot worth it.

Platform ladders are essentially two to four-foot high benches, most only four feet long, which you are perversely encouraged to stand on top of, con­trary to standard ladder safety rules. On a regular stepladder, you are always discouraged from standing on the top two steps. For most standard eight­ foot-high ceilings, a platform ladder or a small bench ladder is particularly useful. Before standing on a steplad­der though, be sure the feet are sitting square and the fold-out supports are in place.

An obvious rule applies to extension ladders; don’t over-extend the ladder. The Lop half must be overlapping the bottom half by at least two rungs or it will buckle once you near the top. Com­mon sense dictates that safety shoes should be worn and laces or loose clothing should be secured to prevent tangling or tripping on the ladder. Inspect the extension ladder before propping it up. If the sides are bent or twisted, throw it away. You can’t unbend aluminum. Trying to do so will only weaken and crack the metal, making the ladder useless.

A ladder should always be away from the wall one foot for every four feet of height. For example, a ladder extended 12 feet should be no less than three feet out from the wall the ladder is resting on. Never stand on the top three rungs of the ladder, and if climbing onto a roof, the ladder must be extended at least three feet above the roof. It’s even more important that you don’t walk on the rungs that are extended past the roof line.

While working from an extension ladder, you should always have three points of contact with the ladder, ie, both of your feet and one hand. A good rule of thumb for leaning out is to keep your belt buckle inside the sides of the ladder or you are leaning over too far. If you are putting up a telescopic or articulated ladder, be careful not to get your fingers caught in the folding jaws, or get them caught between the rungs as the ladder is extended.

It is also unwise to stay at one position on an extension ladder for more than 30 minutes, as fatigue will begin to slow your reaction time and balance. It is best to get off and rest a minute or two before going back up. Do not do jobs such as drilling into brick or cement from the side of the ladder. Turn your ladder toward the direction you are pressing, to avoid side loading that will push you over.

When a ladder cannot be placed securely, it should be tied to the build­ing to at least two points. It should not be positioned in front of windows or doors that could open into it. If a ladder must be placed on a sidewalk or where pedestrians are nearby, or anywhere near vehicles, safety cones should be placed around the work area. if that is not enough, it is worth the man-hours to have a spotter at the bottom of the ladder to prevent accidents.

Use ladder mitts on the ends of the ladder to prevent scratching or mark­ing the siding where the ladder rests. As well, use ladder standoffs to keep the ladder off gutters and glass. They cost little and save a lot of aggravation, especially in hard-to-reach spots on the side of a house. It is possible to use two extension ladders with ladder jacks to create a plank scaffold in some situa­tions, but both should be secured.

In really treacherous spots, use a separate safety line beside the lad­der and connect a belt harness. If the ground is uneven and you don’t have a separately attachable leg leveler, as a last resort, use wood planks under the feet to level yourself. Most of all, avoid the temptation to rush any job that requires work from a ladder. No pressing “next” job, or extra hour, or lunch meeting is worth the price of a ladder accident.