The second most common cause of occupational fatalities in the United States are falls, slips and trips. Often overlooked in the falls category, ladders remain a serious cause for concern, remaining one of the top OSHA violations year after year. The largest barrier to ladder safety is often complacency. With ladders being a routine item, they begin to seem harmless, especially if they are shorter.
It seems simple to remain safe, but it is easy to become careless, especially if you are a seasoned worker. However, ladder safety requires vigilance – one wrong step or slip can cause a serious back injury, neck injury or worse. Improper use, damaged equipment, improper setup or the wrong ladder for the job can all result in a fall. Let’s dive deeper into some important ladder safety tips.
Choose the Right Ladder
Just like it is essential to choose the right tool for the job, it is important the ladder you use is up to the task. Ladders are rated based on the weight the ladder can hold; it is important to remember it is the combined weight of the user and any equipment the user is holding.
Household ladders are light-duty ladders with a load capacity of 200 pounds or less. They are designed to only bear the weight of a person and do not account for the additional weight of equipment or tools.
Commercial ladders are medium-duty ladders with a load capacity of no more than 225 pounds, and can accommodate small equipment, like Christmas lights.
Industrial ladders are heavy-duty ladders, supporting up to 250 pounds, and suitable for a person and a tool belt.
Both commercial and industrial ladders come in higher grades of heavy-duty builds, supporting up to 375 pounds. It is important to remember OSHA regulations require a ladder to be able to support several times its rated weight-bearing capabilities depending on how it is used.
Use the Ladder Properly
Having selected the right ladder for the job, inspect it for damage. Once the ladder is confirmed to be safe, use the following proper ladder practices to prevent injury:
- Secure the ladder. To prevent slippage, tie the ladder to a secure structure at three points: top, middle and bottom. Always have someone hold the ladder at the bottom and ensure you have at least three feet of extension above a structure you need to climb onto.
- The three-foot rule. Like having the extension above a structure, if you are climbing to another level, make sure you have three feet of ladder extending past it.
- The 4:1 ratio. By creating the proper angle, you give the ladder maximum capacity and balance. To create the optimum distance from the foundation, divide the length of the structure from the ground to where the ladder touches the building and divide by four.
- Always find even ground. Even if the ladder is tied off, and even if you have someone to hold the ladder, the ladder must be on stable footing.
- Always face the ladder. Whether you are climbing up or down, make sure you face the ladder and maintain three points of contact.
- Maintain three points of contact. Always have two hands and one foot, or both feet and one hand, on the ladder at all times. Keep your hands free by using a tool belt.
Ladder Safety Don’ts
It is just as important to understand what not to do when you are on a ladder to best protect yourself from injury. Here are some things to avoid:
- Never stand on the top step or rung. It is very easy to lose your balance on the top rung. A safe distance is the fourth rung from the top.
- Avoid leaning or reaching. When you lean or reach, you change your center of balance, which can easily cause a fall. Climb down and move the ladder to where you need to be.
- Do not move the ladder while you are on it. Trying to walk a ladder to a new position is extremely dangerous. Climb down and reposition it.
- Never attach two ladders together. It creates a dangerous weak point which is likely to collapse or bend, taking you with it.
- Do not climb with your hands full. Maintain three points of contact by wearing a tool belt. For heavy items, proper hoisting methods should be used.
- Avoid electricity. Never work under or near electrical wires unless you are sure your ladder is made of nonconductive material.
If using a ladder means you can not meet any of these conditions, you may need a different setup, like scaffolding.
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Ladder Safety Training
Before anything else, employers must provide ladder training by a competent person. Employees should fully understand the hazards, proper use, placement and load-bearing capabilities. Under prescribed OSHA standards, fall protection training and systems may need to be implemented. If safety training is needed, you can reach out to a safety consultant to ensure you keep your employees safe and remain OSHA compliant.