Most people are familiar with the saying that walking under a ladder is bad luck. What they might not know is that there is some truth to that old superstition.
While origins of this myth vary depending on the culture, the most accepted version is that ladders were thought to resemble gallows in medieval times. Therefore, if you walked under a ladder, you would be destined for the gallows yourself.
While walking under a ladder will not magically infuse you with some sort of supernatural curse, the improper use of a ladder does pose a significant risk to your health and safety. An accidental bump of the ladder could throw whoever or whatever on it off balance. This would result in the person or item falling, causing injury to all involved. The ladder could also fall and crash into something or someone and cause significant damage.
According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), falls from ladders — step, straight, combination, and extension — account for about 20% of all fatal and lost workday injuries. Most ladder-related injuries can be prevented by following the proper safety precautions.
To reduce your risk of injury and even death, first make sure your ladder meets these OSHA-approved requirements:
- Your ladder must be able to support its maximum intended load.
- Your ladder should have parallel rungs supported by a rail on each side. The rungs must be spaced equally and built in a way that would prevent foot slippage. Portable single-rail ladders are unsafe and should not be used.
- Your ladder is the correct one for the job. For example, never use a metal ladder for electrical work or near uninsulated electrical conductors.
- Your ladder has been inspected before use for any defects. Immediately replace any broken or defective ladders.
Once you have verified that your ladder meets the required safety guidelines, you must then ensure that you and your team know how to safely use it. OSHA recommends the Three Point-of-Contact Climb while ascending and descending ladders.
The Three Point-of-Contact rule is simple to remember. Always keep at least two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand on the ladder, equaling three total points of contact at all times. Before stepping onto a ladder, place both hands firmly on the rungs. You may only break the Three-Point Contact rule when you reach the ground or a stable platform. While climbing up or down, make sure your body faces the ladder.
Because a ladder is a specialized tool, it is important to remember that the safety regulations we use for all tools also apply:
- Do not use a ladder when tired, dizzy, or ill.
- Do not use a ladder during windy or stormy weather.
- Make sure your shoes are clean and have a good tread.
- Your ladder must be used only on firm ground. Do not place your ladder on slick or uneven surfaces.
- Do not allow more than one person to operate a ladder at the same time unless it is built to accommodate numerous climbers.
- Do not place a ladder near doors or entryways.
- Always carefully review the safety information on the ladder prior to use.
While ladders don’t actually possess any type of mystic power that will bring you bad luck, it is true that improper ladder usage can cause great harm. To keep yourself and others safe, verify that your ladder meets the basic requirements outlined by OSHA, read all health and safety information carefully, and maintain a Three-Point Contact hold while operating a ladder.