Ladder safety, part 2

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As I write this, nearly two months have passed since Safety+Health published an article on ladder safety (featuring incorrect photos), but the dust hasn’t yet settled. A new debate has emerged.

Several people have emailed me about the article, which appears in the March issue, to question Tip 10. The tip states that workers should hold the side rails when ascending and descending a ladder, rather than holding the rungs.

The tip quotes noted fall-protection expert J. Nigel Ellis, who called to tell me that the statements attributed to him were, in fact, the opposite of what he believes. Side rails, Ellis says, should never be held.

After accepting my apologies for the circumstances that made it necessary, he sent S+H a letter (read it on p. 10) in which he details – citing recent research – why holding the side rails is an unsafe practice.

Shortly before I heard from Ellis, I received an email from a reader who was curious about Tip 10. I then contacted a trusted safety consultant, who responded that holding either the side rails or the rungs of a ladder is acceptable as long as three points of contact are maintained. A call to OSHA confirmed that nothing in the agency’s standards specifies using side rails versus rungs, and my own search of tips and other documents from OSHA and NIOSH turned up nothing that addressed the issue.

All of this seems to indicate that using side rails is a commonly accepted practice. So I’m putting out a call to the safety professionals whose jobs include protecting workers who use ladders: Do you allow workers to use side rails, or do you advise against it? Does the three-point contact rule for ladders need an update? Please email me at melissa.ruminski@nsc.org or post a coment below. I’m interested to hear what you think.


The opinions expressed in “Editor’s Note” do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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