- Identify common ladder types used in industry.
- Recognize common hazards associated with ladder use.
- Recall requirements and best practices for ladder safety.
Portable Ladder Safety
As simple as using a ladder seems to be, the injury statistics indicate that it is one of the most abused tools we have. Accidents, particularly in the domestic setting, are frequently caused by overreaching or overextending from ladders to complete certain tasks, rather than doing the safe thing—climbing down and moving to a better access point. OSHA studies have shown that 100% of ladder related accidents could have been prevented using proper safety.
Ladders are used in many jobs for cleaning, painting, changing light bulbs, accessing storage areas, reaching platforms, and more. Because going up and down a ladder all day can cause fatigue, when performing these tasks workers will naturally want to maximize the effort they’ve spent to climb the ladder and will occasionally stretch themselves or their tools to accomplish little jobs a little faster, which is when an inherently risky situation may become even more dangerous.
Safety hazards associated with ladder use include slips and falls, tip-overs, electric shocks, failure due to defects and damage, and failure from overloading. Examples of improper safety include using one that is too short, using the wrong type of ladder, not using a ladder when one should be used, reaching too far to the side, and using not as intended
Overloaded can break or collapse, sending workers and materials tumbling onto floors or other workers. Even if used properly, if the ladder is defective in some way there’s always the possibility of a fall injury. Always examine tools for defects before using them.
Ladder Safety Tips and Precautions
Working Near Electrical Lines
Before handling a ladder look for electrical hazards such as overhead power lines. Do not use a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment. Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet. Make sure there are not power cords or rope that can get tangled in the rungs.
- Maintain minimum clearance distances for maximum voltage listed.
- Use shortest ladder available that will reach the target area.
- Consider the heights of conductive materials that must be extended beyond the ladder.
Avoiding Electric Shock
- Use a ladder made of non-conducting material – the safest are the newer fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) types.
- Avoid using aluminum or metallic ladders.
- Avoid using wooden ladders around power sources since wood absorbs moisture and can become a conductor.
- Avoid using any kind of ladder that is wet when there is the possibility of an electric exposure.
- Use non-conducting ladders with power tools.
- Use double insulated and properly grounded tools – avoid all contact between a ladder and power transmission and distribution lines.
- Be careful when changing ladder locations near any energized conductor equipment and tools.
Reducing Fall Hazards
- Identify fall hazards.
- Conduct safety inspections regularly.
- Recognize/avoid unsafe ladder conditions and practices.
- Use protective equipment.
- Never force a worker to climb a ladder.
Another common hazardous workplace situation involves ladders being used in busy areas such as passageways, doorways, or driveways. The danger exists that the ladder and the worker using it can be displaced by workplace activities or traffic. To help prevent falls or other accidents in these situations, install a barricade around the area you're working to keep traffic or activities away and ensure the ladder is secured to prevent movement, or have someone direct traffic away from the area. If feasible to do so, a personal fall arrest system may be additionally employed as a precaution.
Read the labels: Before you get on a ladder, always read and follow all instruction and warning labels. Check for weight limits. Ladders are designed to hold a certain amount of weight, which is the weight of the individual climbing the ladder along with all additional weight from tools, equipment and carry-on weight.
Check for stability: Check to see that the ladder is sturdy with no cracked or damaged parts. Aluminum is a stronger and lighter material than wood. All bolts and screws should be secured and working properly. If damaged, remove from service until repaired or discarded. If possible, choose a ladder with stabilizers on the feet.
Check your positioning: Make sure to position the ladder on firm and level ground such as concrete. When positioning a ladder to a wall, make sure the angel is no wider than 75 degrees or about 4 feet from the ground to the wall.
Follow the 3-point rule: Maintain three points of body contact with the ladder, either two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand when climbing. Make sure to step on the middle of the step and face the ladder. If you need different tools, wear a tool belt to hold them.
Dress properly: Wear a hardhat or safety helmet when working on a ladder. Wear work boots or shoes with tread. It is very easy to slip if you are wearing smooth soled shoes. Never wear sandals or go barefoot when working on a ladder. It’s not difficult and it could save your life. Wear footwear that is in good repair, with heels and skid-resistant soles.
Be aware of your movements: Never stand on the top few rungs. Choose an extension ladder that is long enough to provide proper safety. The top of the ladder should reach past your belt when standing near the top. Standing too close to the top is one of the major causes of injuries. Never lean out or overreach from either side when working, leaning will throw you and the ladder off balance and you should keep your center of gravity aligned.
- Dismount before moving a ladder.
- Keep top and bottom ladder areas clear of clutter.
- Do not carry loads that prevent you from using both hands on the ladder.
- Carry tools on belt or hoist rather than in your hands.
- Make slow and cautious movements.
Commonly Asked Ladder Safety Questions
What’s the hazard here? Unsafe and improper use of a ladder which can result in a fall. The second-to-the-top nor top of a ladder are intended for standing. Really? Yes, read the label on any ladder, it will tell you doing so can cause ladder instability. Additionally, safe use of a ladder requires three points of contact (two feet and at least one hand) and we can see this person has one point of contact.
How can this hazard be corrected? A taller ladder would do the trick!
Any laws around this? Yes, OSHA regulations 29 CFR 1910.21-26 will covers ladder use in general industry settings. Rely strongly on your particular ladder manufacturer’s instructions for us. If you don’t have them, you will likely be able to find them online. The manufacturer will have built the ladder to comply with OSHA and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and will have written best practices for use into the owner’s manual which will be more specific than OSHA.
Conversation starters: Could this situation happen were you work? Does it happen were you work? Why would someone use a ladder in this fashion? Are employees where you work pressured or encouraged to use equipment like this in an unsafe manner? Does your company have any enforceable rules around this type of unsafe practice?
Do people really fall from ladders? Yes. And they die. In my nearly 12 years with OSHA, I investigated 5 ladder fatalities and 1 serious injury from ladders. Two of the deaths happened when the employees fell from the 2 rung—24” from the ground. One didn’t have three points of contact and the other didn’t have adequate room for his foot on the rung. The 3rd death was just like we see in this picture. And the last included and electric shock where an employee who was not adequately trained or qualified to change a ballast in a light fixture was shocked and jolted from the ladder. The injury was from an employee “riding” and extension ladder to the ground when the engaging mechanism disengaged because the ladder hadn’t been set properly. All 6 cases involved head injuries. What statistics do you know of? Has this ever happened were you work?