Ladders rarely malfunction, but ladder users do.
Ladder safety is 50% common sense and 50% taking the time to do it right.
Here's some advice, most of which is emblazoned on the side of every extension ladder sold today:
* Check overhead for electrical wires. Aluminum or magnesium ladders are particularly hazardous, but dirty wood and fiberglass ladders can conduct electricity too.
* Stabilize the top and bottom of the ladder.
* Face the ladder to ascend and descend. Wear soft, rubber-soled shoes--leather soles can slip.
* Maintain three points of contact; two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot should be on the ladder at all times.
* Avoid overreaching. Hips should remain between the ladder's side rails.
* Select the ladder that's the right height and sturdiness for the job.
* Never store a ladder outside or in an unlocked garage. A burglar may use it to reach a window that would otherwise be out of reach.
To Raise and Lower
* Get help. Four hands are better than two, when it comes to raising extension ladders, especially those longer than 28 feet.
* Place the bottom of the ladder against the base of the wall. Then, starting at the top, walk the ladder up, hand over hand, until it is vertical.
* Next, pull the ladder's feet out slightly from the wall and extend it to the desired height. Be sure the locks are fully engaged.
* Set the feet of the ladder at a 75-degree angle. You should be able to stand with your toes against the feet of the ladder, your arms and back straight, and your hands on the rungs at shoulder height. To further check the angle, for each 4 feet of ladder used, the base should be 1 foot from the wall.
* Secure the base. There are movable feet at the ends of the legs. On grass or loose rock, use the ladder feet in the spike position. On hard, stable surfaces, use the feet in a flat-foot position. When in doubt, have a helper hold the bottom.
* Use a ladder stabilizer bar--a device with two legs that holds the upper part of the ladder out from the wall--to prevent damage to siding and gutters, to span window openings and to provide better stability.
* Never set a ladder on sawhorses or boxes to extend its reach.
* Never work on a ladder outdoors during windy or inclement weather.
* Use a tool belt or pockets to carry tools and supplies, or a bucket and rope to pull up tools after you've climbed.
* When working on a roof, the ladder's side rails should extend 3 feet above the roof edge to provide a good handhold as you climb on and off the ladder. Step onto the roof from the side, rather than over the top rung.
* When moving your ladder from one spot to the next, lower it hand over hand and carry it parallel to the ground.