Aluminum ladders up to 40 feet extended are sold at home improvement stores. These are 20 feet long when not extended. A 32 foot aluminum ladder costs about $320 while a 32 foot fiberglass ladder is heavier and costs $30 more, about $350. Aluminum ladders conduct electricity. Fiberglass ladders are much safer.
The minimum clearance from a high voltage power line to the ground is 18.5 feet under the National Electrical Safety Code. See rules 232 and 234. If the installer makes a mistake, the power company lines can be too close. See for example the official findings after a Kentucky electrical accident: www.psc.state.ky.us/order_vault/Orders_1989/198900258_09191989.pdf
Also, tree growth can hide power lines. See National Electrical Safety Code Rule 218 on tree trimming.
As a consequence of the cheaper cost (and lighter weight) of aluminum ladders, several workers are killed by electrocution every year in the United States.
A government study pointed out, “Ladder contacts with power lines usually occurred during erection, lowering, or relocation of the ladder.” A typical case: the power lines are obscured by nearby trees, the wind is blowing, someone is painting a small apartment building and needs to move the ladder. To work quickly, the ladder is left extended while moving it. The ladder tilts or is blown, and touches the power line. The electric shock instantly kills or maims the worker.
In a North Carolina accident,
“The victim and his coworkers were painting several two-story townhouses. While the worker was repositioning his 28-foot metal extension ladder (which was extended to 26 feet), the ladder contacted the overhead power line located approximately 16 feet from the painting operation … . Several seconds later, the foreman heard a buzzing sound and saw the victim gripping his ladder before falling to the ground. The victim was pronounced dead in the hospital emergency room.”
Under the laws of some states and some Federal laws, the employer and those engaged in a common enterprise have a duty to use safe equipment. Can anyone believe that aluminum ladders near high voltage lines are safe, just because there is a warning? One government study recommends
“Employers, workers, general contractors, and ladder manufacturers should take the steps outlined in the following sections to protect workers while working around overhead power lines. Many of these steps are required or suggested by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. … Eliminate the use of metal ladders near energized overhead power lines.”
Even a 28 foot aluminum ladder is long enough to contact a power line sagging to 18.5 feet off the ground. It seems to me that the aluminum extension ladders should never be sold, because they will end up being used in the wrong place. If you buy a ladder, please buy a fiberglass ladder whether it is a fiberglass extension ladder or a fiberglass stepladder and ensure that your ladder will never be part of a devastating accident.