Properly used, stored, and cared for, a ladder should hold up for several years. Nothing lasts forever, though, and sooner or later comes a time that you have to retire or replace a ladder. Sometimes that day can come sooner than expected if it sustains damage and depending on what it’s used for, how frequently it’s used, and what it’s made of.
There’s no set answer to the question of when to replace ladders, and the best general one is the admittedly vague “several years.” In truth, proper care should mean that time for ladder replacement shouldn’t come until well more than 10 years after first putting it to use. But as we’ve mentioned, some factors can affect that. So the best time to replace ladders really depends.
Working on ladders is already dangerous enough as it is, so it’s important to check them regularly to look for signs that replacement time is approaching or has arrived. After all, ladder failure when someone’s on it can mean serious injury and even death, and falls from heights are already a leading source of workplace injuries. There’s no need to add to the risks by climbing a ladder that’s no longer safe.
Let’s consider some questions to ask and some things to look for.
The chances of damage or deterioration rise along with a ladder’s age. When the ladder is new or only a year or two old, problems are unlikely unless the ladder has been misused or cared for improperly, so looking it over before each day of use is sufficient. However, as the ladder gets older, it makes sense to inspect it more frequently. If trouble signs have developed between days of use, you can address them ahead of time.
How often a ladder sees usage is also a critical indicator of the likelihood of issues and the need for more frequent inspections. Arguably, it’s more important than the age of the ladder. For instance, a ladder that you’ve had for a decade but which you use just a few times a year and which you keep properly stored isn’t all that likely to develop any defects (though you should still check it over each time before you use it). On the other hand, if the ladder is being used daily or several times a week, it’s taking much more of a beating and is going to wear faster.
Ladders are, for the most part, highly durable, but they are still susceptible to damage from strong impacts. A significant impact can affect the structural integrity of a ladder. So can a fall resulting from a ladder sliding down a wall or tipping backward. In those instances, it’s not uncommon for a metal rung to work itself loose. Tossing a ladder onto the ground from a truck and letting it drop when you’re finished using it are other ways you can damage a ladder. Even driving on rough roads with the ladder secured atop a vehicle can shake it up enough to possibly cause damage to some of its parts. So don’t toss or drop a ladder. When it’s time to set it down or stow it, gently set it on the ground or wherever else you’re going to place it. For larger ladders, this is best done by two people.
So far, we’ve talked about factors that can cause changes to a ladder’s performance or structural integrity. Now let’s look at specific things to watch for.
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