Safety Ladders

Trends in ... ladders

Follow the rules

Falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and fatalities, according to OSHA. Safety+Health spoke with Dave Francis, national safety director at Springville, UT-based Little Giant Ladder Systems, about his thoughts on ladder safety.

Safety+Health: What recent innovations have been made in the ladder field?

Dave Francis: Innovation is happening in the ladder industry – a lot of it over the past couple of years. These new improvements focus on reducing injuries by designing solutions to common causes of ladder injuries:

Weight reduction: A high percentage of ladder-related injuries are caused by the awkward size and weight of larger ladders. New advances in lightweight fiberglass materials have allowed us to reduce injuries by making lighter ladders.
Ground cue: Another surprising cause of ladder incidents is people stepping off the ladder before getting to the bottom step. This can cause a simple loss of balance; a twisted knee or ankle; or a backward fall, which could result in a more life-altering injury. By changing the bottom step of the ladder so that it clicks when stepped on it, the user will become conditioned to wait until he or she hears and feels the bottom step before letting go.
Added stability and leveling: The ground is almost never level and people have been using bricks and boards to level their ladders. You should never do this. Ladders are being manufactured with leveling devices and outriggers to provide a wider, level base.

S+H: What do you wish employers and workers better understood about ladders?

Francis: Almost all ladder incidents are preventable by following the four basic rules of ladder safety.

  1. Choose the right ladder for the job – make sure that it’s made of the right material and its weight rating, style and length are appropriate.
  2. Inspect it to make sure it’s in new condition. Never use a ladder that’s broken or bent.
  3. Set it up on firm, level ground.
  4. Keep your body between the side rails. Never overreach.

S+H: What concerns or questions are customers coming to you with regarding ladders?

Francis: The most common question I get asked is, “How do I work from a ladder and maintain three points of contact?” The OSHA standard says that the user should grasp the ladder with one hand as he or she goes up and down the ladder. It never says what to do if you need to stop and work from the ladder.

If you are climbing an A-frame ladder, you almost definitely have a project you want to work on from the top of the ladder. Before letting go of the ladder with both hands, place both feet on the same step and lean your body (hip or thigh) into the ladder to maintain balance and control. If your company policy states that you must maintain three points of contact at all times, this becomes the rule. You will need to provide fall protection with either a harness and lanyard or guardrail system. Platform ladders are available with an engineered guardrail system at the top.

S+H: What is on the horizon in the ladder field?

Francis: Better training in the form of certification will greatly reduce the risk of incidents. Product certification and safer product design will help with our ultimate goal of getting everyone home safely at the end of the day.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month:

  • Foot protection
  • Heat protection

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