It sounds like a simple question, with a simple answer… yet can be somewhat difficult for most people to answer. Most ladders are made with aluminum or fiberglass, however wood ladders continue to be used on many jobsites. Splits, chips and cracks can be fairly easy to identify on wood ladders, however rot and decay can sometimes go undetected. If you see any signs of softening or weakening, just replace it. Stepping onto a wood ladder rung that has a defect could be devastating.
How about fiberglass ladders? You might think that when the color starts to fade it’s a good time to replace, however you may be getting rid of a perfectly good ladder. Sunlight’s UV rays can cause the color to fade, and the surface to become dull and flat, but it may do very little to the integrity, although these areas can make the rail more susceptible to cracking or moisture and / or oil infiltration, which can then lead to a compromised level of non-conductivity. When inspecting the ladder, look carefully for cracks in the fiberglass. These can cause a weak spot in the rail which can therefore break with any kind of load on it. It’s also important to look for fibers that are protruding out of the rail surface. This is known as fiber blooming and can hasten premature rail degradation or cracking when in contact with moisture, soil, grime, paint, grease or oil. These areas are repairable, but should only be tackled by a qualified ladder repair company. See list below.
When looking at aluminum ladders for safe use, it’s important to check for dents, bending, dings and tears in the aluminum. Any of these should tell you that the ladder is not safe to use. Just like any ladder, you also want to look for straightness, as a whole, and be sure everything is functioning properly. If you find that ladder sections don’t slide smoothly or that spreader bars don’t work as they should, that can be a sign that something is seriously wrong with the ladder and either discarded or repaired immediately.
Be pro-active. Perform regular, thorough inspections on all your ladders, at least once a month. A quick once-over, inspection, each time a ladder is used can be done in less than a minute and could save a serious injury, or your life. Do it yourself, if you are the person climbing the ladder. Don’t assume someone else is watching out for you. If you see rivets missing, any warping or cracking, rungs bent or loose, don’t use the ladder. Look over the shoes to make sure they are in good working order with no damage to the rubber treads. The shoes are like the foundation to your house. If they are not rock solid, and leveled, you are taking a chance that can cause the ladder to twist or slip out from under you. Ladder levelers can certainly help with these types of issues.
Here are some great resources we recently found. They are condensed and easy to understand, but more importantly, may help avoid a horrible ladder injury:
*OSHA article on how to inspect, maintain and select the right ladder: http://www.antiochcollege.org/
*Ladder Inspection Form that can be used by anyone or company: http://www-ehs.ucsd.edu/shop/
*Ladder Inspection & Safe Use by the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety: https://www.ccohs.ca/
*List of “On-Site”, Ladder Inspection, Maintenance and Repair Companies: