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Gutter Cleaning and Portable Ladder Safety

Each season of the year brings its own set of joys and tasks. Autumn, or commonly called Fall, involves a transition from flowers, warm sun, and beaches to pumpkin lattes, fire pits and bursts of color as leaves change and fall from the trees. In some parts of the country, the Fall tourist season is built around the colorful change – leaf peepers.

With the burst of color comes the incidence of clogged gutters and the appearance of people on ladders cleaning those gutters. Leaning outside the siderails of a ladder while attempting to clean gutters can be a risky behavior.

Ladder fall injuries are hazardous in both the workplace and at home. If not executed with proper safety practices, this common workplace tool can lead to dangerous falls, resulting on average in more than a 20-day recovery period for employees. Moreover, the mental well-being of more than half of fall victims is impacted at least six months after an accident and particularly long-lasting for men 55 and older. Prevention is key in the workplace, as a simple accident can result in complex consequences.

Specifically, portable ladders are commonly used in construction sites, warehouses, and even in offices due to the advantage of easy transport. Although they provide convenience, portable ladders are not known for bearing very heavy loads. In fact, OSHA standards suggests portable ladders do not safely support workloads more than 300 pounds as the maximum capacity. Exceeding the weight limit can result in a collapse and fall injury.

When an employer selects a ladder for use, the most important factors to consider are type, height, and duty rating. For instance, rolling ladders are common in stock-picking scenarios such as warehouses, whereas extension ladders adjust for various heights and are useful for cleaning gutters, trimming trees, or hanging Christmas lights. Choosing the correct equipment for each job is the first step in ladder safety in the workplace.

According to NIOSH, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the most common causes of ladder falls include:

  • An incorrect extension ladder angle – 75 degrees is the optimal angle.
  • An inappropriate selection of ladder, leading to structural failure.
  • Utilizing a poorly maintained, wet, or dirty ladder – ladder inspection and maintenance is crucial.
  • Improper climbing technique – carrying items while climbing or descending a ladder is unsafe.
  • Insufficient employee ladder safety training.

OSHA offers some basic ladder safety tips on portable ladder safety (OSHA Quick Card: Ladder Safety):

  • Keep your center of gravity between the siderails.
  • Maintain three points of contact on the ladder – two feet + one hand, or two hands + one foot.
  • Place the base of the ladder on a stable and level surface.
  • Use a second person to hold the base of the ladder.
  • The proper angle for setting up a ladder is to place its base a quarter of the working length of the ladder from the wall or other vertical surface (see diagram).

Of course, these ladder safety tips apply to the use of a ladder in general, not just when cleaning gutters. Let’s make Fall a season, not an activity – practice portable ladder safety and enjoy the colors after the gutters are clean. Maybe the official name for the season, Autumn, is better after all!

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