It’s important workers know about using ladders correctly on the job.
By Samuel Sanguedolce
Misuse of portable ladders in the workplace represents a major source of injuries and fatalities among workers, with many injuries so serious they require time off the job.
Ladder safety depends on an individual’s understanding of safe work practices and a respect for the potential hazards.
Selecting the Right Ladder
Choose a ladder based upon the expected load capacity (duty rating), the type of work to be done, and the correct height. Select a ladder capable of supporting the combined weight of the worker and any tools and materials they may carry. Never exceed the weight capacity of a ladder.
Inspection and Maintenance
A competent person must visually inspect all ladders before use for any defects. Before using any ladder, check for the following conditions:
- Steps are firmly anchored to the side rails
- No worn or broken ropes on an extension ladder
- No protrusions that could cause cuts or scratches
- No grease, dirt, or contaminants that could cause slips or falls
- No paint or stickers (except warning or safety labels) that could hide possible defects
- No structural damage, split or bent side rails, broken or missing rungs/steps, and missing or damaged safety devices.
- Underwriters Laboratories (UL) seal is visible.
If a ladder doesn’t pass an inspection, it should not be used and marked as defective or tagged “Do Not Use.” Make sure the ladder is thoroughly repaired before returning it to service or replace it.
When receiving a new ladder, be sure to inspect it to make sure it’s in good condition and designed to handle the job it will be used for. Inspect the ladder daily or before each use and follow the manufacturer’s specifications for proper care, handling, and storage. Store all ladders in a well-ventilated area away from extreme heat, cold, or moisture. Be sure to check the appropriate OSHA standard for the type of ladder to be used.
When transporting a ladder on a vehicle, be sure to secure it firmly at both ends to prevent the ladder from falling off the truck or being damaged.
The best way to move a stepladder is to grab it midpoint and carry it horizontally. Use a partner to carry and transport long ladders instead of trying to move them by yourself.
Setting Up the Ladder
When raising the ladder, you want to achieve a proper angle to ensure you can balance and secure the ladder and prevent any accidental movement.
To set up an extension ladder properly, set the base of the ladder so the bottom sits securely and both side rails are evenly supported. Place the bottom of the ladder at the base of a foundation and walk it up, hand over hand. Pull the base away from the foundation, extend the ladder to proper height, and extend the rungs.
Set the ladder up at the proper angle. When the ladder is leaned against a wall, the bottom of the ladder should be one-quarter of the ladder’s working length away from the wall. In other words, position the base of the ladder 1 foot away for every 4 feet of ladder height. This is commonly referred to as the one-quarter rule (1:4 ratio).
Once the ladder is placed at the proper angle, it should be tied or tethered off to prevent movement. If the ladder cannot be properly tied off, it’s important a spotter is used to prevent any movement of the ladder. The rails of the ladder should extend at least 3 feet above the top landing.
When using a ladder in a high activity area, secure it to prevent it from moving. Use some type of barrier at the base of ladder to redirect moving equipment and workers away from the area. If a ladder must be placed in front of a door, always block off the door!
Safe Ladder Use
Before using the ladder, you should check you are wearing work shoes with clean, nonslip soles.
Hazards associated with ladders include working around:
- Uneven surfaces
- Congested areas
- Electric hazards
- Overhead hazards.
If you have to stand on the first step at the top of a stepladder, or the second step at the top of an extension ladder—the ladder is too short for the job! It should not be used!
Maintain a distance of 10 feet—including the length of the ladder—from all exposed, energized electrical equipment. Metal ladders should never be used around a source of electricity because they are conductors of electricity!
When climbing the ladder, always maintain a three-point contact (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) with the ladder at all times. Be sure to keep your body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder while climbing. Be sure ladders are free of any slippery materials on rungs, steps, or your feet. Never ever use the top step of a ladder as a step or rung! Be sure all locks on an extension ladder are properly secured.
Face the ladder when going up or coming down, and keep your body inside the side rails while climbing. Use extra care when getting on or off the ladder at the top or bottom.
Carry tools in a tool belt or use a rope to haul tools up. Never carry tools in your hands while climbing up or down!
Do not use the ladder on soft ground or unstable footing. Place the ladder on a hard surface. Do not overreach when on a ladder or attempt to move or shift the ladder while on it. Use the ladder only for its intended purpose—never use a stepladder as an extension ladder or climb on the back support braces of a stepladder. Avoid using a ladder outdoors on windy days if possible.
Never use an extension ladder horizontally like a platform, or tie two ladders together to make them longer.
In addition to work shoes, hard hats should be worn by the climber and spotter to protect against falling objects. Be sure to wear the appropriate type of gloves if conditions are humid or wet to provide a good grip and maintain the required three-point contact.
OSHA requires employers to train each worker to recognize and minimize ladder-related hazards. See to it each employee is trained by a person knowledgeable about and competent in:
- Types of fall hazards in the work area
- Proper construction, use, placement, and care of all ladders
- Maximum intended load-carrying capacity of ladders.
Employers must retrain each employee as necessary to maintain their understanding and knowledge about the safe use of ladders. Numerous resources on ladder safety, such as flyers and quick cards, are available on the OSHA website at www.osha.gov.
All safety information about ladders is useful—if it’s imparted to the work crews. Tips on safe ladder use should be part of company safety talks along with formal on-the-job training and periodic refreshers for all employees who use ladders.
Samuel Sanguedolce, CIH, CSP, CHMM, is a certified industrial hygienist and certified safety professional and is the Director of Environmental Health and Safety for Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York. He is also a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association.