Stand Firm on Ladder Safety
At some point or another, we’ve all needed to retrieve an object or perform a task at a height that’s just beyond our reach. When that happens, are you more likely to reach for an approved ladder or step stool, or the most convenient substitute?
Ground-level falls can lead to serious injury, but falling from heights is exponentially more dangerous, and potentially fatal. Whether ladder use is a part of regularly assigned duties or the result of a circumstantial need, such as changing a lightbulb, ladder safety is a topic that affects everyone sooner or later. Don’t fall down on the job – make sure your employees and volunteers are trained and equipped for proper ladder use.
Basic Ladder Safety
According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. The National Ag Safety Database (NASD) attributes the cause of most ladder accidents stemming from improper selection, care, or use of the portable ladder by the worker, as opposed to resulting from manufacturing defects. This makes the need for training on safe ladder usage clearly evident.
The first step in ladder safety is selecting a tool that is appropriate for the task at hand. Clearly define in your safety policies that utilizing countertops, chairs, boxes, or other substitutes to complete a task at height, even for seemingly trivial tasks, is prohibited. Each facility should be equipped with an easily accessible portable step ladder or step stool for these purposes, and all employees should be aware of their location and trained in their use. For more involved projects such as painting, installing equipment, or performing maintenance, both the style of ladder and the load rating should be checked before use.
A ladder’s maximum load capacity includes both the weight of the worker as well as any additional tools, equipment, or materials being used. The load rating of a portable ladder should always be checked before use, and never exceeded during use. Common load ratings from NASD and OSHA are categorized into the following classes:
- Type III Household Use – Light Duty – Maximum load capacity 200 lbs.
- Type II Commercial Use – Medium Duty – Maximum load capacity 225 lbs.
- Type I Industrial Use – Heavy Duty – Maximum load capacity 250 lbs.
- Type IA Industrial Use – Extra Heavy Duty – Maximum load capacity 300 lbs.
- Type IAA Rugged Use – Special Duty – Maximum load capacity 375 lbs.
There are two main types of portable ladders:
, which can hold themselves upright in a free-standing fashion on any level surface, and
, which must be leaned against a wall or other solid surface to stand upright.
Regardless of the load rating or style, all ladders must be set up properly to avoid malfunction and failure. Being aware of these distinctions and abiding by proper set-up requirements are an important part of basic ladder safety. In addition, all employees and volunteers should be encouraged to reach out to management if a ladder is inadequate for the needs of the task they are required to perform.
Guidelines for Basic Ladder Safety
The following guidelines, obtained from the OSHA Quick Card, OSHA eTools, and NASD website, are excellent best practices when utilizing portable ladders. Spreading awareness of these guidelines amongst your workforce is an excellent first step in preventing ladder injuries and fatalities.
- Read and follow all labels and markings on a ladder before use.
- Never use a ladder or ladder accessory for a purpose other than its intended use.
- Always inspect a ladder prior to use. Damaged ladders should be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.
- Ladders should be kept clear of all oil, grease, wet paint, or other slipping hazards.
- Always maintain a 3-point contact (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) on a ladder when climbing.
- Keep weight placement near the middle of the step or rung, and always face a ladder while climbing.
- Do not use the top steps or rungs of a ladder unless they specifically indicate that users may do so.
- Do not over reach while on a ladder; instead, climb down and reposition the ladder.
- Do not use ladders near power lines, exposed or energized electrical equipment, and other electrical hazards.
- Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface.
- Do not make alterations to a ladder in order to obtain additional height.
- Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
- Keep the area around the top and bottom of a ladder clear.
- Ensure ladders are placed in locations where they will not be easily affected by other activities and traffic.
All portable ladders should undergo regular inspection and maintenance. The NASD offers the following guidance on ladder maintenance based on the material it is made from:
- Protect with a clear sealer varnish, shellac, linseed oil, or wood preservative
- Do not use opaque paint, since that could hide defects
- Check carefully for cracks, rot, splinters, broken rungs, loose joints and bolts, and hardware that is in poor condition
Aluminum or steel ladders
- Inspect for rough burrs and sharp edges before use
- Inspect closely for loose joints and bolts, faulty welds, and cracks
- Make sure the hooks and locks on extension ladders are in good condition
- Replace worn or frayed ropes on extension ladders at once
- Maintain a surface coat of lacquer
- If lacquer is scratched beyond normal wear, it should be lightly sanded before applying additional lacquer
Did you know? March is National Ladder Safety Month! Check out the American Ladder Institute’s website to learn more about the event and access related resources and content.
When it comes to ladders, don’t fall down on the job – make sure your workforce is equipped with basic ladder safety best practices. If you have any questions regarding this material, please contact your risk manager.