One beautiful January day, I decided it was time to remove the Christmas lights from my roof. I set up the ladder on my composite deck, leaning it against the roofline. I knew the composite decking was slippery and didn’t offer a desirable surface to set a ladder, but I’m a guy that likes to get the job done, so I continued. Besides, I had help. My wife was going to hold the ladder, but she came outside in flip-flops. Once her toes felt the frigid air, she quickly went inside to change her shoes.
While she was gone, I started without her. As I climbed the ladder, it didn’t feel stable. Unfortunately, I ignored the voice in my head telling me I should wait for my wife and proceeded to remove the lights. As I leaned toward the roof, I pushed down on the top rail of the ladder, causing it to slide across the deck. Then I lost my balance and fell about eight feet to the ground. At the hospital, I was diagnosed with a torn trapezius muscle. My reward for disregarding my personal safety? I got two days of quarters and 10 days of light duty. Adding insult to injury, the lights were still on my roof.
Each year, 12,500 people are treated at hospital emergency rooms for injuries much like mine due to falls, cuts and shocks related to holiday lights and decorations, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC recommends using caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. The following tips can help keep you safe when using a ladder.
• Never pull on lights when removing them. They could unravel and inadvertently wrap around power lines.
• Make sure the weight your ladder is supporting does not exceed its maximum load rating (user plus materials). There should only be one person on the ladder at a time.
• Use a ladder that is the proper length for the job. The suggested length is a minimum of three feet extending over the roofline or working surface.
• Never stand on the top three rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder. Straight, single or extension ladders should be set up at about a 75-degree angle.
• All metal ladders should have slip-resistant feet.
• Metal ladders will conduct electricity, so use a wooden or fiberglass ladder near power lines or electrical equipment. Do not let a ladder made from any material contact live electric wires.
• Be sure all locks on extension ladders are properly engaged and the ground underneath is level and firm. (Here’s a good idea: Large flat wooden boards braced under a ladder can level it on uneven ground or soft ground.)
• Have a helper hold the bottom of the ladder, and never place a ladder in front of a door that isn’t locked, blocked or guarded.
• Keep your body centered between the ladder’s rails at all times. Do not lean too far to the side while working and refrain from stepping on the top step or bucket shelf.
• Make sure the rungs are intact and free of dirt and paint buildup that could interfere with footing.
• When extending or retracting an extension ladder, hold the pulley rope firmly. If the rope is released, the upper section could drop on your fingers, arms or feet. Make sure the tops of both rails make solid contact with walls and both legs make solid contact with the floor or ground. Place foam protectors or wads of cloth on the tops of extension ladders to prevent them from sliding and to protect the walls.
• Be sure to empty your pockets before climbing a ladder. Knives, scissors or other pointed tools could cause injury.
• Always wear rubber-soled or another type of non-slip shoe on a ladder. Avoid working in wet or windy weather, and do not climb a wet ladder.
Falls from ladders can cause serious injuries and even death. Following ladder safety procedures every time you climb the rungs will help keep you at home with family rather than the emergency room.