Although the work can appear mundane, installing a sign can be an incredibly dangerous task. That’s because it doesn’t take a fall from a very high place to cause serious injury. Signs are often in high places, can be extremely heavy, and can also contain electrical components – when one or more of these are present, it’s imperative that sign installers and repairers follow strict safety procedures. This post will share some important guidelines to remember when using a ladder to work on a sign.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, around 500,000 people a year suffer from ladder related injuries. Even the most surefooted workers are at risk of an accident. Here are a few things to remember before you get on a ladder:

  1. Make sure you won’t have to get too high – The absolute highest distance that you should use a straight ladder to reach is 40 feet. The highest you should reach with a step ladder is around 24 feet. The highest you should reach beyond the height of a ladder is 4 feet (Werner). The higher you are, the easier it is for your center of gravity to move outside of your base and for the ladder to fall.
  2. Choose the right ladder – If you are going to be working anywhere near electrical currents, it’s best to use a fiberglass or wood ladder instead of a metal one to avoid electrocution. If you don’t need to reach higher than 28 feet, you can use a step ladder. If you need to go higher and can lean your ladder against a solid flat surface that’s perpendicular to the ground, then you should use a straight ladder. Straight ladders are more stable than step ladders at greater heights. Make sure the straight ladder is tall enough to be at least 3 feet above the highest landing area. If there isn’t a stable even surface to lean a straight ladder, then use a tall step ladder instead. You should make sure to use a ladder with the appropriate rating. Here is how step ladders are rated:
    • 1AA – max weight of 375 lbs and max length of 12 feet
    • 1A – max weight of 300 lbs and max length of 20 feet
    • 1 – max weight of 250 lbs and max length of 20 feet
    • 2 – max weight of 225 lbs and max length of 12 feet
    • 3 – max weight of 200 lbs and max length of 6.5 feet

    For sign installation and repair, you should always use a step ladder with a rating of at least 1. You should make sure your ladder reaches high enough so that you won’t have to reach beyond 4 feet higher than the ladder’s height. You should not step on the last 2 wrungs of a ladder whether it’s a step ladder or a straight ladder.

  3. Inspect your ladder before using it – Make sure your ladder doesn’t have any defects, cracks, or loose or corroded bolts or rivets. You should make sure your ladder has slip resistant pads, and that all wrungs are present and undamaged. For extension ladders, make sure all latches work properly.
  4. Set your ladder up correctly – If you are using a straight ladder, you need to make sure that the base of the ladder is placed one quarter of the working height of the ladder away from the wall (a fully-extended 25 foot ladder should be at least 6 feet – 3 inches away from the wall). Make sure the top of the ladder is resting on a firm support. No matter what kind of ladder you are using, make sure the base of the ladder is on flat, even, firm ground. For extension ladders, make sure the upper section of the ladder is positioned above the lower (the lower should be facing the wall). As mentioned earlier, make sure your straight ladder extends at least 3 feet above your highest landing area. If you have to set your ladder up in front of a doorway, make sure to barricade the door so that no one comes through and bumps your ladder by accident.
  5. Use your ladder correctly – Avoid using a ladder in high winds or in the rain as these can increase the risk of a fall. Make sure to always keep at least three limbs on your ladder at all times. Avoid carrying heavy objects up a ladder, or objects that require two hands to carry. Avoid reaching away from the ladder to work on something as this can move your center of gravity away from the ladder and cause a fall. Your ladder should be positioned right next to your sign. Move the ladder as you work to make sure you are always positioned as close as possible to the area of the sign you are working on.

Here’s a video by OSHA on how to use ladders safely:

If you ever have a question about ladder safety, OSHA has resources to help you understand how to use ladders safely and effectively. OSHA even offers training on general workplace safety. If you are concerned about your employer’s or employee’s use of ladders, or have other workplace safety concerns, giving them information could help prevent serious injury or death.