Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ladder Safety and You

One of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard when it comes to ladder safety is – “there are two kinds of ladder users, those who have fallen off a ladder and those that will”. While you may not like the either-or scenario of that statement, it is sadly all too true. If we use ladders long enough we can find ourselves on the wrong side of an accident. But as professional cleaners, ladders are an essential part of our equipment. What can we do to minimize the risk?
Location, Location, Location!
While most of us would recognize this adage as something to do with real estate it is a vital element of ladder safety. Where we place our ladder is the most important step we take in using it safely. We need to make sure that the ground we are setting our ladder on is solid. The ladder should also be set at a 75 degree angle. How do we know if we have it right? There are simple ways to check. To establish the angle simply set the ladder where you need it, now with your arms stretched out straight, your hands should land on the rung straight in front of you, then you have the proper angle. As for the stable ground, when the ladder is set, simply stand on the bottom rung and bounce a little. If the ladder doesn’t sink unevenly or deeply then you’re ready to think about climbing. What about uneven ground or getting on a roof?
Every Ladder Needs These
I have found 2 ladder accessories to be invaluable when it comes to ladder safety – a standoff and the Pivit tool.
We use a Werner quick click standoff (some guys call them bullhorns) every time we set up the extension ladder. It keeps the top of the ladder away from the wall, which gives you a better angle to clean. It also gives more stability to the top of the ladder which is especially beneficial when going from the ladder to a roof. We also use the Pivit tool which looks like a big black wedge. It is designed as a leg leveler as well as a plank support for interior scaffolding. Whatever you use, a leg leveler is a must when you need to make sure the ladder is always straight, never climb a ladder that is leaning to one side, even if it’s only by a couple of inches.
Other concerns
If you live in an area where you may need to use a ladder in the winter, you may run into snow or ice where you need to set up. If there is no other option, then make sure to clear the surface of any snow or ice before setting your ladder. Of course there are other options for certain types of cleaning, like extension poles or using different techniques to clean the exterior from the inside when doing windows.  Another great way to reduce the risk of using ladders is to not use them. We use water fed poles as often as possible to keep ladder use to a minimum in window cleaning. Or if you are soft washing a house can you use a longer wand or telescopic pole to get the solution to a setback dormer?
Training is Essential
One thing we also should discuss it the need for training. While climbing a ladder may not be rocket science it’s dangerous and as with any dangerous activity training can reduce those dangers. Most fire departments have training classes so check with your local one to see if you can take a class. There are networking events for cleaners around the country and some may have safety courses and/or demos that you can attend. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have online classes (OSHA 10 and OSHA 30) that will help you with the classroom aspects of ladder safety if you take the ones for the construction industry.

To Use a Ladder or Not

Whatever you decide no job is worth taking an unnecessary risk with a ladder so really analyze your options beforehand, apply any and all safety devices for the ladder, be willing to walk away from an unsafe scenario, and remember the only safe ladder is the one you never use!

For more educational topics go to Window Cleaning Institute