Safety’s first step is the right ladder

  • By the Carey Brothers
  • Wednesday, May 2, 2012 9:44am
  • Life

Purchase the right ladder and use it safely, and you just might use it all season long without any broken bones.

Never mount a ladder until you determine that it is sturdy and secure.

There are three basic types of materials used to fabricate ladders: wood, metal and fiberglass. Each has its pros and cons:

Wood ladders

The oldest and most familiar ladder is one made of wood. Wood ladders have a solid, sturdy feeling. However, the fact that they are heavy makes them a bit cumbersome and somewhat difficult to transport.

Also, wood must be regularly maintained to prevent cracking, splitting and rot. Don’t leave a wood ladder out in the rain. This year when you spruce up your wood deck, do the same for your wood ladder. A light coat of wood preservative will add life.

Apply the preservative sparingly. Too much could result in a sticky or slippery mess. If your wood ladder needs repair, don’t use nails. They won’t hold for very long, and they have a tendency to split dried wood. All repairs should be made with metal connectors attached with through-bolts.

Metal ladders

Ladders made from high-strength aluminum were developed in the ’50s when hair was short, skirts were long and aluminum was the material of the future. They were touted to be the lightweight, rot-free alternative to wood. And so they were.

But aluminum ladders have been around long enough to prove that they don’t last any longer than wood. Salt air or chemicals can corrode and weaken an aluminum ladder in no time.

Once repaired, a bent section of aluminum no longer can be depended upon to remain straight; not what you want when you are suspended 6 or 8 feet in the air and are depending on its ability to support you.

Don’t use an aluminum ladder when working near live electrical lines, such as when trimming trees. We feel the aluminum ladder as the most dangerous type to use when performing electrical work. Ever since we have wondered who suggested that it was OK to work on live electrical lines at all.

It is dangerous to work on them on any ladder. A wood ladder in a humid area will conduct electricity almost as effectively — if not more so, in some instances — than a metal one. Bottom line: Don’t work on live electrical lines no matter how safe the manufacturer says his ladder might be.

Fiberglass ladders

Fiberglass ladders are lighter than wood but heavier than aluminum. They aren’t subject to rot, they don’t bend easily and they do come in several attractive colors. Manufacturers say that they will last generations, just what they said about aluminum.

We know that plastics and resins oxidize in the same fashion as all other carbon-based materials. Only time will tell whether fiberglass will last any longer than the others.


If you regularly perform home maintenance you might need more than one ladder. Depending on your home you might need several. A two-story home with high ceilings and low ceilings might require a tall folding ladder, a shorter folding one and a long extension ladder.

When shopping for an extension ladder, remember that a 20-footer will only extend to about 17 feet. The difference is taken up where the sections overlap. Also, be sure to get a ladder that will extend beyond the roof a few feet.

When shopping for a folding ladder, remember that 8-foot ladders are too tall for 8-foot ceilings. For 8-foot ceilings, use a 6-foot ladder.


Keep ladder safety in mind. Each year thousands of people are injured in ladder related accidents. Proper ladder placement is an art. Don’t ever use a damaged ladder. Inspect it closely before each use. A wobbly one is a dangerous one.

Always place the ladder on a solid surface.

If you’re working near soft ground, such as a garden, use a sheet of plywood or a couple of pieces of good solid 2x lumber to support the ladder to be sure that the legs don’t sink, possibly planting you on your back.

Always place an extension ladder at about a 75-degree angle.

Ladders are sold by weight rating — how much weight a ladder is rated to carry. The more weight it will hold, the stronger it must be. We buy them to carry more than we weigh.

For tips from James and Morris Carey, go to or call the listener hot line, 800-737-2474, ext. 59. The Careys are also on KRKO (1380-AM) from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday.

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