Are ladders dangerous?

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it’s estimated that 90,000 people wind up in the emergency room in the United States each year, for ladder-related injuries. Many of them fall off the ladder while cleaning their gutters.

Climbing a ladder probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, especially all the macho types that think, “Nothing will ever happen to me, I’m six-foot-five and bulletproof.” But I have news for them, that’s part of the problem. Overconfidence often leads to epic failures.

Falling from a ladder can happen much more easily than you would think, and there is always a reason for the failure. Here are the top 7 reasons that people fall off ladders while cleaning gutters:

1. Improper Ladder Set-up Angle

About 40% of ladder falls is caused by the ladder sliding out at the base, due to an incorrect setup angle. Most people set extension ladders at shallower angles than the recommended 75 degrees. When your body weight reaches the top, the ladder becomes unstable, and you find yourself face first in the bushes.

2. Wearing the Wrong Shoes

Everyone loves their old, broke-in tennis shoes that are generally worn when working around the house or in the yard. In fact, I’m wearing mine right now as I write this article. But, I would never think about climbing a ladder in them! If your shoes have a flat, worn-out sole, then they will have a poor grip, especially if there is any water on the rungs. When climbing a ladder, I always wear close-toed boots with a grooved, anti-slip sole that has a half-inch heel (I personally wear these).

I know I sound like a shoe salesman, but I’m trying to prevent you from ending up a ladder statistic here…

2. Not Inspecting the Ladder Before You Climb

Before I take a road trip, I inspect the car. I check the oil, coolant, brake fluid, washer fluid, and tire pressure. I do this to prevent some minor problems from causing a major headache. Same thing with your ladder. Inspect the ladder and make sure it’s clean (slipping off a rung because of something stuck to it is all too common), the rung locks (the portion that holds the top above the bottom) work properly, and that the feet are free of debris and in good working order.

3. Unsafe Placement of the Ladder

Sometimes finding a decent place to set the ladder is hard. Especially if you don’t have even ground around your house. Make sure the ladder is on solid, dry ground at the proper angle (see above). If the ladder is on soft or muddy ground, it could easily sink on one side or the other, tipping you off the top. The same thing can happen if the feet aren’t level. There is a great product for this, called the ladder level. There are different types, but a set-up like this will go a long way keeping you out of the emergency room.

4. Climbing on Your Toes

When climbing a ladder (or stairs), we naturally want to use out toes, it’s human nature. Don’t ever do this on a ladder. The rungs are usually thin (especially on an extension ladder), and your foot can slip off easily, even if you have the proper shoes. Instead, always step onto each rung of the ladder using the middle part of your boot, locking your heal to the rung. This gives you a secure connection to the ladder.

5. The Wrong Ladder for the Task

A step-ladder is not supposed to be used for cleaning your gutters. It’s best suited for changing a light bulb, installing a ceiling fan, or other type of activity. Extension ladders are designed for getting to high places, and they come in different sizes. Oftentimes, I see people with a 12 foot extension ladder extended all the way to barely get the top of the ladder to the side of the roof. This is extremely dangerous. According to OSHA, the ladder should extend above the landing platform, at least 3 feet. You should also make sure that the overlap (the top and bottom sections that overlap when extended), is the correct amount for each ladder, usually the higher the ladder extends, the more overlap you will need. If your ladder doesn’t extend at least 3 feet above the roof, or the overlap is not correct, get another ladder.

6. Rigging Ladders Together

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised. I took the picture above, and was quite surprised that someone wasn’t hospitalized, or wound up in the morgue. Never, ever rig ladders together. I think that’s enough said on that one.

7. Reaching Too Far

The most tedious part of cleaning your gutters is having to constantly climb up and down to move the ladder to the next portion. To prevent climbing up and down so much, people lean over and stretch to the next section, reaching out as far as they can. This is the easiest way to lose your balance, and wind up kissing concrete. Always keep your body centered on the ladder, and if you have to reach out past arms length, then it’s time to climb back down and move the ladder over.

Summing it all up…

Your drainage system needs clean gutters to work properly and prevent damage to you home. However, it’s equally (if not more) important that you feel comfortable on a ladder. If you have any health conditions, bad balance, or value your life more than your gutters, then it’s best to hire a professional.

Better yet, if you have a high roof, or lots of trees, think about having gutter guards installed. That way, you never have to subject yourself to ladders again.