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6 tips to avoid ladder falls

It only takes you a split second to reach the ground when you fall from a ladder, but your whole life can change in that time. Even if it's a short ladder -- six or eight feet -- you could suffer serious back, neck or head injuries. Higher falls could lead to paralysis, permanent injury and death.

You don't think about these risks every time you climb a ladder. You just think about getting the job done. You think about the task at hand. If you're a construction worker or a contractor, you probably climb ladders every day.

But that does not make the risk any less real. Fall injuries are a serious concern, and using that ladder may put you at greater risk than anything else you do during the day. To stay safe, use these tips to avoid a fall:

  1. Get the right ladder. People often choose the shortest, lightest ladder when they really need a larger, heavier one, and then they fall trying to use it in a way that was never intended.
  2. Don't reach or lean too far. Once you're up the ladder, you may not feel like you have time to climb back down and move it a foot or two to one side, but trying to over-extend yourself makes a fall vastly more likely.
  3. Don't stand on the top. Those warning signs on the upper rungs and the very top of the ladder are no joke. Never climb too high. Again, get the right ladder. If you need a taller one, find a taller one. Don't try to use a short one improperly.
  4. Set the ladder up correctly. Don't put it on anything that is unstable. Watch out for mud or slick surfaces. Don't put the ladder too close to the base of the wall or too far away from it. Always take the time to ensure that the set-up works before climbing.
  5. Level the ladder. People often skip this step because it's time-consuming. A construction worker sets the ladder on uneven ground and hopes it won't slide, for instance. It's far safer if you dig out the ground under one side of the ladder to level it. This is even safer than using wood or other materials to prop up the opposite side.
  6. Learn to work with one hand. A lot of falls happen when workers get to the top, keeping three contact points at all times, and then try to balance on their feet to work. You need to hold onto the ladder with one hand and work with the other, keeping those three contact points in place.

These tips do make ladder work safer and reduce accident rates. However, you can never fully eliminate that risk. If you get seriously hurt on the job, you need to know your legal rights.

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