A safe climb

20 steps for portable ladder use

Workers at jobsites across the country travel up and down ladders – some as tall as 60 feet – every day. Among OSHA’s top 10 most frequently cited standards in fiscal year 2011, ladder violations ranked eighth, with a total of 3,244.

The AFL-CIO-affiliated Center for Construction Research and Training estimates that falls from ladders are responsible for 16 percent of all fatal injuries in the construction industry and 24 percent of non-fatal injuries involving days away from work. Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary figures for 2010 show that, overall, 129 workers were killed after falling from ladders.

The following 20 steps can help keep workers safe on and around ladders: 


Make sure workers are trained
Ensuring employees are properly trained for work assignments is an important aspect of any job, and on-the-job training for ladder safety is no exception, said Janet Rapp, executive director for the American Ladder Institute in Chicago. “It’s extremely important,” she said. “We find that people that have been using ladders for years don’t always follow the best practices. Not only novices, but experienced [ladder users], should take a step back as well and make sure they understand what type of tool they are using.”


Select the proper ladder
Selecting the appropriate ladder for the job is essential, Rapp said. “Oftentimes, accidents are the result of not using the right ladder,” she noted. Important factors to consider are the type of ladder (straight, step, extension, etc.), length and the material from which the ladder is made. (For more on choosing the right type of ladder, visit www.laddersafety.org.)


Determine the duty rating
Duty ratings are given to ladders by their manufacturers based on the maximum weight that can be safely supported. The weight of the worker and the weight of any tools or materials carried onto the ladder must be less than the duty rating, according to Oregon OSHA. Before purchasing and using a ladder, the maximum weight it can support must be considered. Duty ratings for portable ladders include:

Special duty (IAA) 375 pounds
Extra heavy duty (IA) 300 pounds
Heavy duty (I) 250 pounds
Medium duty (II) 225 pounds
Light duty (III) 200 pounds

Inspect each ladder before climbing
According to the American Ladder Institute, a thorough ladder inspection should be made when the ladder is purchased or received or before it is put into service. Grease, dirt and other contaminants that could cause slips or falls, along with excess paint or stickers, could hide possible defects in the ladder. ALI recommends cleaning the climbing and gripping surfaces if they have been subjected to slippery materials. The ladder should be checked for loose steps, rungs, nails, screws, bolts, or other metal parts; broken uprights or braces; and damaged or worn nonslip bases. Also, look for warning labels that are not attached or are unreadable.


Identify defective ladders
Workers who inspect a ladder and discover a defect, or that the ladder needs additional maintenance, should clearly identify the defective ladder to ensure it will not be used until it is properly repaired, said David F. Matthes, corporate safety director for Framingham, MA-based J.F. White Contracting Co. “When you take it out of service, make sure it is destroyed,” Matthes said. “Make sure someone doesn’t leave it in a dumpster for someone else to use. If it doesn’t look right, change it out of service – get it out of use.”


Transport ladders with care
When carrying a ladder, the front should be elevated, specifically around blind corners, in aisles and through doorways, according to Oregon OSHA. If this is too difficult for one worker, multiple employees can be assigned to carry the ladder safely, Oregon OSHA said. While transporting a ladder on a truck or in a trailer, it must be properly supported parallel to the bed, and the support points should be padded with a soft and non-abrasive material.


Look for nearby hazards
Boxes, files and various items piled in walkways can create tripping hazards, according to OSHA. Be certain that all materials are safely stored in their proper location to prevent buildup of clutter in walkways. Further, in addition to posing an electrical hazard, stretching cords across walkways or under rugs creates a tripping hazard, so ensure all cords are properly secured and covered.


Safe setup
The base of the ladder should only be placed on level surfaces, and a ladder should never be placed on an unstable or moveable item for additional height, said Dr. J. Nigel Ellis, president of Wilmington, DE-based Ellis Fall Safety Solutions. “Two people erecting the ladder is the best and most convenient” solution, he said. “Put the bottom of the ladder into the crevice or the corner of the ground then raise the top part. Then you walk it up [until it is] vertical – now it’s easier to lift and move.”


4-to-1 ratio
To prevent sliding, portable non- self-supporting ladders should be set up at an angle of 75.5 degrees, according to the American National Standards Institute. This gives the most amount of resistance to sliding and will provide additional balance to the climber. The length of the side rails from the base of the ladder to the top support points should be about 4 times the distance from the base of the ladder to the structure. If the base of the ladder is too far out, the ladder may break or slip, and if the base is too close to the wall, the ladder can tip backward.


Ascending and descending
When going up and down a ladder, a worker should face the ladder and hold onto the side rails, Ellis said. “They’re a great guide, so hold onto the side rails. And workers must take the process one step at a time with no sliding to expedite the process – it’s not recommended on an industry work location,” Ellis said, adding that workers should “always step carefully.”

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