As their name suggests, combination ladders take the best features of two other popular ladder configurations, namely the extension ladder and the combination ladder. They use the extendable design of extension ladders and combine it with the stability provided by the four legs of a stepladder. This makes them a versatile, dependable choice for use in many common applications which require more height than a conventional stepladder.
As with all other ladder types, combination ladders are best suited to some specific situations and work environments. In many situations a properly set up combination ladder will be more than capable of getting the job done. However, there are also a number of situations which would be best served by an alternative. As a result, it’s important to be able to recognise when it’s safe to use a combination ladder and when it’s not. Below we’ll run through a few examples and explain the features of combination ladders in more detail.
Characteristics of combination ladders
Combination ladders are essentially a hybrid of extension ladders and stepladders. This combination arose out of a need for greater height in a conventional stepladder configuration. Stepladders provide a four-legged base which allows them to stand stably on their own, but they are usually not large enough to allow a user to reach much higher than a standard ceiling.
Similarly, extension ladders are good for use in situations which require an extended reach up against a structure like a wall or scaffolding tower. However, they cannot be used at all in situations which require a free-standing ladder. This need for a strong support structure limits the number of situations extension ladder can be used in.
A combination ladder has the same hinged, two-sided frame as a stepladder, with an additional extendable section attached to the climbing side. This additional section is not intended to be used to support the user’s feet, but instead acts as a frame to support their hands as they stand on what would be the top rung of a conventional stepladder. Combination ladders also have another impressive capability which is made possible by the extendable section. If the extendable section is moved down instead of up it can be used as feet. This means the ladder can be used on staircases or other raised surfaces.
Safety features of combination ladders
Because combination ladders take the height advantage of an extendable ladder and combine it with the safety advantages of a stepladder, they are significantly more practical in many situations. They feature all the usual essential safety components of conventional stepladders, such as a frame lock, rubber feet and grip rungs, to ensure the ladder does not slip or collapse when in use.
Because of the additional height provided by the extendable section, combination ladders also have some extra safety features which are not usually found on conventional stepladders. The most obvious is the additional support legs which provide extra width to the base of the ladder. These come in a variety of configurations, but all serve the same purpose of increasing the area of the ladder’s base which comes into contact with the ground. With this additional base width, the combination ladder is more stable and less likely to tip over when a user is working at height.
Workers using ladders will often need to extend their arms to either side to reach the surface or fitting they are working on. This can shift the centre of gravity of the ladder significantly, subsequently increasing the risk of a fall. Due to their additional height, a fall from a combination ladder can be much more severe than one from a normal stepladder.
When to use combination ladders
Combination ladders are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, provided they are placed on a flat, obstruction-free surface. As previously mentioned, they can be used on raised surfaces and stairwells, provided their feet are flat against the floor. As there are not many types of ladder suitable for working on this kind of offset surface, combination ladders are a favourite of users who work in this kind of environment often.
In rooms with medium-to-high ceilings, some form of tower scaffold is the safest, most secure option for working at height. However, scaffold towers are generally much larger and harder to transport than combination ladders. While not as stable or sturdy as a tower scaffold, a combination ladder can provide the height needed to change a lightbulb or fitting in medium-to-high ceilinged rooms. Combination ladders are much more portable and less specialised than tower scaffolds, meaning they can be used in a wider variety of situations.
Combination ladders are ideal for use in situations where additional height is needed but there is no support structure in place to rest a conventional extension ladder against. Because combination ladders are able to support themselves and a user without the need for additional supports, they are best suited for indoor work environments. For example, jobs which require work on ceiling fittings or high wall fittings are well served by combination ladders due to their height and stability.
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