Working in an environment where an electrical hazard is looming can be daunting for anyone, even the most seasoned electrical professionals. Using the right equipment in these situations is the first step to being safe and completing the job without having any accidents.
Fiberglass ladders are popularly known in the ladder community for their durability, stability, resistance to weather, and high load capacity. This makes them highly sought after by both industrial workers and people that run home projects.
However, electricians seek out fiberglass ladders for a different reason. This reason is its highly non-conductive nature. This is why fiberglass has for a long time been the ladder of choice by electricians. In this post, we are going to look in detail at why fiberglass ladders have been the best bet for most electricians.
Do Fiberglass Ladders Conduct Electricity?
Let us go through a quick science lesson to understand this better. Electricity always seeks the quickest way to move from an electrical source into the ground. This is where conductive materials come in.
Electricity is capable of passing through conductive materials and so uses it as its quickest way into the ground. To prevent being electrocuted, insulating materials are used rather than conductive ones.
Fiberglass ladders have insulating properties which means electricity can’t pass through them, and they remain the best to be used around electrical wires. With a fiberglass ladder, you are protected in the event of an electrical shock.
Additionally, conductivity refers to both thermal and electrical conductivity and since we have concluded on electric conductivity, let’s look at thermal.
In general, materials exhibit some level of thermal conductivity. It may be higher in some materials over others, depending on the kind of materials and degree of heat applied.
That said, fiberglass material which is used to make fiberglass materials is a very poor conductor of heat, especially when compared to better conductors like aluminum.
Related: Best Ladder for Electricians
Can Electrical Currents Flow-Through Fiberglass and Wood?
Generally, fiberglass and wood are regarded as very poor conductors of electricity. This is what makes them extra useful to people that work around power lines or electrical wires. The same can be said for wood. Wood, as we have earlier stated, is a poor conductor of electricity.
Now, let’s look at why. Wood comprises materials like cellulose, hemicellulose, and extractives. These materials lack free electrons that enable electric currents to pass through them. Wood mainly works as an insulator in these types of situations, not allowing electric current to pass through it.
The electrons bound to the atoms of molecules contained in wood are so tightly bound together that the needed movement to aid in electrical conduction is absent.
But a new question arises. Can the electric current be made to flow through fiberglass or wood? If there ever would be a need for fiberglass to conduct electric current, fitting the fiberglass ladder or material with aluminum or metallic fittings would be just the way to do it.
These fittings may make the process of conduction that much easier. In the case of wood, wet wood or damp can be made to conduct electricity to some extent. This largely depends on the kind of wood used, and the amount of voltage applied.
Which Type of Ladder Is the Safest to Use?
When it comes to picking the perfect ladder to use around power lines or electrical wires, safety is the most crucial thing to look out for.
The safest ladders to use are fiberglass and wooden ladders as they are not capable of conducting electricity and so will prevent any electrical hazard. However, fiberglass ladders are generally regarded as the premium ladder choice for a variety of reasons.
- They are generally stronger and so can handle heavier weights.
- They are durable and are unlikely to bend or break during use.
- They maintain their structural integrity in heat and so are suitable to be used in extremely warm climates.
- Fiberglass ladders are effective in resisting flames. That is to say, they do not burn when lit.
- They can be used in direct contact with natural elements as they are weather resistant.
As a result of these benefits, and many more, fiberglass ladders have become the go-to ladder for most Electricians around the world.
Can Electricians Use Aluminum Ladders?
For a long time, the question of which ladder is most suitable for electricians to use has made its way into many conversations regarding ladders. Some have argued the usefulness of aluminum ladders for electrical work, while others have presented fiberglass as a better alternative.
While aluminum ladders have been very useful in the workplace as a result of their strength, durability, resistance to heat, lightweight nature, etc, their discontinued use in electrical work has been their greatest flaw.
This is because aluminum is a great conductor and so using ladders made from this material increases an electrician’s risk of being electrocuted or suffering any other form of accident. Ladders made out of non-conductive materials like fiberglass are better suited to be used for electrical work.
Related: Which ladder is perfect for your needs – Fiberglass vs Aluminum Ladder?
Fiberglass Ladders Electrical Safety Guide
Even after using the right type of ladder material for your electrical work, there are still some safety measures you must observe while using a fiberglass ladder for any electrical work.
- Ensure your hands are dry at all times before you begin working with electricity. Also, ensure your ladder is clean and dry before climbing. You must never repair or touch any electric circuits or wires with wet hands or on a wet ladder.
- Never use a ladder with damaged insulation or broken rungs around electrical wires or overhead power lines.
- If you are using a fiberglass ladder to do any work at home, it is better to err on the side of caution by turning off the mains before you begin. You should also go a step further by putting a sign around the main switch to prevent anybody from turning it back on while you’re working.
- Ensure every tool you use while working with electrical wires is properly insulated.
- If you are working in an unfamiliar area, keep an eye out for signs like “Shock Risk”. These signs are placed strategically to help you prevent accidents due to exposed parts with voltage or any unguarded electrical equipment that could become energized at any time.
- Always ensure you are fully covered with insulating materials from goggles to insulated rubber gloves before you begin working on any electrical circuit.
- Before you begin working on any equipment, ensure it has been de-energized. The best way to do this is by using a tester to check for any residual current. When the tester detects any current, the bulb in the tester is lit showing the presence of current flowing through the wire. You could also check other metallic surfaces around the circuit or any hanging wires that may be present for current flow.
- Avoid using any ladder with metallic or aluminum fittings for electrical work. Touch these fittings that may be charged by any loose wiring could lead to an electrical hazard. The electrical surge may ground leading to even more damage. Instead, use a ladder that is 100% made from fiberglass material.
- Familiarize yourself with the wire code that is present in your country.
- If you are not a professional electrician, ensure you do not work alone. Work under the supervision of a competent electrician who may not only give you more safety tips suitable to your work area but also is experienced enough to act in case of an electrical hazard.
Fiberglass ladders are the clear favorites for electricians around the world. But why are wooden ladders still in use? Simply put, affordability. Fiberglass ladders may not burn a hole in your pocket, but they are significantly more pricey than wooden or even aluminum ladders.
As an electrician, you must never compromise safety to save a few bucks. Instead, you should try to strike a balance. You should ensure you get the best ladder that will get you the most benefits and is also relatively affordable.
Joseph is the owner of LadderGeek. He is a home remodeling enthusiast. He has created this blog to share some of his knowledge on Ladder and accessories.