April 5th, 2020
Portable Ladder Safety
Portable ladders are one of the most commonly used tools in many workplaces. The ubiquity and simplicity of portable ladders can sometimes lead workers to use them without the proper attention to safety. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study that analyzed 41,800 workplace falls noted that 20% of falls occurred while using a ladder. This guide will define and categorize the most commonly used types of ladders and explain how to use them safely.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics study that analyzed 41,800 workplace falls noted that 20% of falls occurred while using a ladder.
WHAT LADDER SHOULD I USE?
The first step to ladder safety is selecting the best ladder for a given task. The ladder must be made from the right material and be of an appropriate type. OSHA-approved portable ladders are made of one of three materials: metal, wood, or fiberglass. Metal ladders must be avoided if working near electrical hazards. It is also necessary to consider the weight capacity of each ladder. Every approved portable ladder is assigned a duty rating, which describes its maximum weight capacity. The duty ratings are divided into types:
- Type I, 250 pounds
- Type IA, 300 pounds
- Type IAA, 375 pounds
- Type II, 225 pounds
Remember, you must consider all the weight that will be on the ladder, not just a worker’s personal weight. Clothing, equipment, and tools could contribute significantly to the overall weight.
STEP LADDERS OR EXTENSION LADDERS?
Even if a ladder passes inspection, it does not follow that it is safe to use. Environmental and personal factors must also be taken into consideration.
Inspections, Surfaces, and Potential Hazards
Ladders must be inspected before each use. The ladder must be completely stable, with no loose steps, loose hardware, or deteriorating components. There must not be any substances that may cause a worker to slip, such as oil or grease. If using a step ladder, you make sure the spreaders lock properly before use. If a ladder does not pass an inspection, it must be tagged and brought to the attention of a supervisor. It is not acceptable for workers to make temporary repairs on their own. The ladder should not be used again until it is properly repaired or replaced.
UNEVEN OR SLIPPERY CONDITIONS AND OUTDOOR USE
Sometimes uneven or slippery conditions cannot be avoided. If this is the case, measures must be taken to eliminate the hazards these conditions pose.
If the ladder will be used on uneven ground, a ladder leveler must be used. Always use a dedicated, manufacturer-supplied ladder leveler; boxes, plywood, and other makeshift levelers are not consistent or safe
SMOOTH OR SLIPPERY SURFACES
If smooth conditions cannot be avoided, a ladder with non-slip grip feet must be used. If using a ladder outdoors on a grassy surface, spiked feet must be used to anchor the ladder firmly in place. If there is any other danger of slipping, the feet must be tied or blocked to prevent them from shifting.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND PERSONAL HAZARDS
Even if a ladder passes inspection, it does not follow that it is safe to use. Environmental and personal factors must also be taken into consideration. The area in which the ladder is to be set up must be inspected. Look for any spills, oil, grease, or dust, which might cause instability. If you must use the ladder in a high-traffic area, use barricades or other safety measures to make sure that a worker or vehicle does not accidentally make contact with the ladder. The area must also be inspected for electrical lines or wiring. All ladders must be at least 10 feet away from electrical power lines unless you are a trained electrical worker performing electrical work. Never use a metal ladder near electrical wiring.
Ladder accidents can also occur if a worker is feeling, weak, dizzy, or otherwise unwell. Certain medical conditions or medications may also prevent some workers from being able to use ladders. If you are not feeling well, do not use a ladder.
Employees must be trained to use ladders safely. This includes how to set up, use, and inspect the ladder. One good training resource is OSHA’s Portable Ladder Safety QuickCard, which summarizes some of the key information is this article and is easy to print. (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/portable_ladder_qc.html). OSHA’s complete ladder safety standards can be accessed here.