Portable ladders are used on all of our projects, both in construction and demolition. They are a very useful tool and if used properly, are very safe. However, improper use and set up of portable ladders leads to thousands of accidents and injuries each year. Most ladder fatalities involve falls from 10 feet or less. You can be seriously injured if you were to fall from only the second or third rung of a ladder.
Ladder safety starts with the proper selection of the type of ladder you need to perform a task. Stepladders, extension ladders, and fixed or straight ladders are all designed with different uses in mind. Once the type of ladder is selected, you must keep in mind that the duty rating must be a Type I, IA, or IAA as these are the only ladders acceptable for use on our construction sites. Another factor you might want to consider when purchasing a ladder is whether or not the manufacturer offers replacement parts. If a $350 ladder has a damaged rung that can’t be replaced, it must be thrown away. Some manufacturers offer models that have replacement rungs for around $20.
The next step in ladder safety is inspection. The ladder must be inspected before each use for damage to the rungs, side rails, and hardware. If damage is found, the ladder must be tagged accordingly and removed from service. Also check the rungs for grease, oil, or other substances that may cause slipping.
When it comes time to use the ladder, proper set up is the key. Make sure that the ladder is placed on a firm, level surface. Keep the ladder away from electrical hazards above. If using a straight or extension ladder, be sure it is set at the proper angle, approx. 75 degrees. The ratio is 4:1, which means for every four feet in height, the ladder should extend one foot away from the working surface. (A simple check is to stand with your feet at the base of the ladder and reach toward the ladder with one arm. With your arm extended, your hand should stop between the rails of the ladder.)
Here are some key requirements for safe usage of ladders:
- Always face the ladder when climbing up or down.
- Maintain 3 points of contact at all times. (Use a rope to hoist tools or material)
- Do not overreach or extend too far beyond the sides of the ladder. Keep your belt buckle between the rails; if you can’t reach what you need to, you will have to move the ladder.
- Make sure there are no slippery substances on the soles of your shoes.
- A cleat should be installed to prevent the ladder from kicking out.
- If the ladder is being used for access to an elevated position, the ladder must be secured at the top to prevent sideways movement. (During initial set-up, have another employee “foot” the ladder until it is secured) You must also make sure the ladder extends 36 inches above the landing surface.
- Each employee must be trained by a competent person to recognize the hazards involved with using portable ladders.