March 16, 2017

By Andrew Miller 

Visit any household or worksite in the United States and you will, more often than not, spot a ladder. A common and easy-to-use tool, the ladder is applicable in most everyday life situations that require the ability to make contact with objects that are out of reach – from changing light bulbs to window washing, from painting to fixing rooftops, and from cleaning gutters to performing maintenance work.   

Yet ladders have serious potential dangers. According to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), every year, more than 90,000 people visit the emergency room for injuries due to ladder-related accidents. Fall-related injuries are responsible for nearly 700 occupational deaths annually, which accounts for 15% of total occupational deaths.

These scary statistics are the fruit of careless and improper use of ladders – regardless of whether one is at work or at home. Nevertheless, when used with a careful mindset and thorough assessments, ladders are extremely efficient in helping us get a variety of tasks done. Read on to find out the important steps to ladder safety.

1. Selection

Before even picking a ladder, you must consider a few important things: ladder length, material, duty rating and personal ladder responsibility. For instance, outline the workload, including the following:

  • The total amount of your weight and the weight of the materials or tools you’ll carry
  • The sufficient height you need to reach in order to effectively perform the task
  • The kind of room you have
  • The material your ladder should be made from

Ladders are designed for different, specific functions. Never assume that a leaning ladder can be a substitute for a stepladder or that a metal ladder will be fine in an area with a lot of electrical sources.

2. Inspection

Inspection is a crucial yet often overlooked step and must take place before a ladder is in use. By means of visual inspection, start from the top of the ladder. Make sure all steps and rungs are clean and sturdy. Greasy, muddy, worn, loose or bent steps can lead to slips and falls.

Check the ladder’s feet carefully. Examine them resting on different surfaces – from a soft, muddy spot to a smooth, solid one – to ensure the feet make complete contact with the surface. Remove any oily or greasy spots on the ladder.

Inspect the locking mechanism, including screws, hinges, nails, bolts and other fasteners to ensure everything is tight. If you’re inspecting on a worksite, report a broken ladder immediately so it can be removed from service. Do not attempt to modify, temporarily repair, or replace any missing parts. According to OSHA, you must seek professional help from a competent person who is authorized to perform the inspection and correction of the issues.  

Depending on the type and material of a ladder, you can look for specific problem indicators. For example, while wooden ladders should be examined for cracks or splits, metal ladders should be checked for signs of corrosion. Likewise, fiberglass ladders are a better choice than wooden and metal ladders when working in wet weather and in environments exposed to electrical wiring.

3. Setting Up

Once you’ve got the right ladder and inspected it carefully, you can move on to setting it up. A good rule of thumb is the 4:1 ratio: for every 4 feet that the ladder rises, the base needs to be 1 foot away from the structure it will rest on. For instance, the ladder needs to be 6 feet away from the wall if you want it to touch the wall 24 feet above the ground.

Next, pay attention to the surface you are setting up on. Is it hard and flat or muddy and bumpy? This will help you decide whether the ladder’s feet should stay flat or if they should be dug into the ground for better support.

Avoid placing ladders on scaffolds, boxes or other objects. Make sure all obstructions (i.e. electrical wires, tree branches, hanging lights) are away from the ladder. If ladders are placed in public spots such as walkways or high traffic areas, you must set up proper posting signs, locking doors, barricades and warning cones.

4. Using the Ladder

Now that everything is tightened and securely in place, it’s time to face the ladder. Keep in mind that ladders should extend at least 3 feet above elevated surfaces.

When in use, always stay in the center of the rails – do not lean out to the side. If something is out of reach, go back down and move the ladder. Maintain 3 points of contact at all times, either by keeping both hands and a foot on the ladder as your other foot steps up or by keeping both feet and a hand on the ladder as you grab the next rung.

Only one person should be on the ladder at a time. If the ladder is unstable, climb down and fix the problem. Likewise, if you feel tired, dizzy, or have poor mental and physical conditions, do not use the ladder. Never stand on the top rung of any ladder or above the marked safety limit.

Do not jump off a ladder or try to move or adjust it while it’s in use. Carry light tools and materials in a toolbelt. For heavy tools, use a rope and pulley system. Do not overload the ladder. Try not to have someone below you, yet make sure there’s always someone nearby who can spot you. In unfamiliar situations, pay extra attention.  

Common ladder-related injuries include cuts, bruises, and fractured bones. While some minor scratches here or there might seem like nothing substantial, in many cases, people suffer much more severely. The astonishing statistics about injuries and fatalities caused by ladders are enough to prove the potential dangers of using such simple tools. As a result, it’s important for employers and workers to understand and actively implement best practices when it comes to working with ladders.

Interesting in learning more about other areas of safety for your facility? Consult a Dakota Safety expert today.  

Dakota Safety specializes in providing passive fall protection systems and safety products for clients all across America. They are based in Saint Paul, Minnesota.