When ladders are a requirement in the workplace both the employers and employees have a responsibility to ensure they are being used safely and properly. Not doing so can lead to some very serious injuries and even death as a result of a fall. In this article, we'll look at what both the employer and the employee need to do to ensure ladders are being used safely.

The Employer’s Responsibilities

The employer is responsible for setting up a safe work environment by providing the right equipment to do the job. The first task for the employer is to assess each job for work being done that cannot be reached safely from ground level. If there is work to be done at height, the next thing is to determine the length of time the employee will be required to remain at that height to perform the work.

If the employee is simply using the later as a means to go up and down between work locations, as with roofers, then the time spent on the ladder per trip is minimal even though the work at either end will take more time. If the work requires an employee to remain at height for more than 30 minutes, then the employer should be looking at a safer alternative like a scaffold, lift or other piece of equipment. If the work takes less than 30 minutes, then a ladder may be the right piece of equipment as long as there is an area where a ladder can be placed so that it is level and will remain stable. Ideally, there should be a way in which the ladder can be secured.

Finally, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that workers are properly trained in safe ladder use.

The Employee's Responsibility

If you are being asked to use a ladder in your work duties, your first duty is to ensure that you are properly trained in its use and confident in that training. The safety rules around ladder use will have some different elements defined by the industry and particular company you are working for, but there will be some common themes.

Daily Safety Inspections

As soon as you get your ladder out for the first use of the day it should be put through an inspection:

  • Check the stiles to be sure they aren’t bent or damaged.
  • Look at the feet of the ladder to ensure they aren’t damaged or missing.
  • Each of the rungs should be inspected to make sure they are firm. Keep an eye out for any that are missing, cracked or beginning to wear out.
  • Check each locking mechanism to ensure they are engaging and holding properly.
  • If you are using a step ladder, then check that the platform is sturdy and that the treads on it are not worn.

(For related reading, check out How to Prepare for a Safety Inspection.)

Using Your Ladder Safely

Don’t just assume that once you have put your ladder in place and it is safe that it is going to remain that way throughout the entire day. Someone could have moved it slightly which could render it unsafe without you realizing it. Before going up any ladder, give it a quick test by putting your weight on the bottom rung and trying to shift it left and right using your hands. On that note, you also need to know what the weight specs are on the ladder you are using. You may need to carry equipment and materials up and down the ladder and you need to take the weight of these along with your own weight into account. (For more, see Keys to Safe Ladder Use.)

The rest of the rules do sound like common sense, but you only need to spend a few minutes on YouTube to see how many people ignore them with unhappy results. Here are the universal rules of ladder safety regardless of industry:

  • Don’t take the risk of extending your reach too far. Your belt buckle should remain within the styles.
  • Properly position the use of your ladder. It should be at a 75 degree angle. Use the rule of one unit out for every four units up.
  • Go up and down the ladder properly. Grip the ladder firmly with both hands and face the ladder.
  • Never stand on the rungs when the ladder is being moved or you are extending it.
  • Be sure the ladder extends at least three rungs above the area you are working at.
  • Make sure the ladder is positioned on non movable objects.
  • Try to use a tool belt whenever possible rather than carry your tools in your hands.
  • Use the proper safety methods when working near power lines.

Safety Wrap

Most of us have used a ladder at some point in our lives. That kind of familiarity can make us lax when it comes to proper safety - as I have personally found out when my body weight pushed the ladder into soft spring ground, spilling me onto the ground and wounding my pride along with bruising my backside. As a professional, ladder safety is part of your job. Making sure you meet your responsibilities when it comes to ladder safety either as an employer or employee can prevent some potentially serious consequences. YouTube has the videos where people take a stupid fall. The videos of people taking a serious or fatal fall end up in the courts. (Also check out Not Worth the Money: Putting Safety (and Your Life) in Perspective.)