Fall Protection and Ladders
Ladders and fall protection safety moment.
Do you ever pause to think of all the hazards you're exposed to when you're going up or down a staircase?
Probably not. Fact is, it's easy to forget about the risks involved, in large part because there are so many hazard controls in place that we tend to take for granted.
Staircases are safe because each step is designed to have sufficient space for the entire foot, and then some. There is either a sturdy wall at the side or a railing to help you steady yourself. The steps might even have strips of grip tape to reduce the risk of slipping.
You can't say the same for ladders. They serve a similar purpose - getting you up to and down from an elevated surface - but with none of those same safeguards in place.
The rungs have to be shaped so you can grip them with your hands, which makes them quite narrow for your feet. There's no reliable guardrail you can grab onto if you lose your footing. Instead of being built into the structure, a ladder just leans against it and you have to hope and pray it doesn't fall over.
Not only are the hazards real, but their consequences can be serious. Falls from ladders can cause severe injury, disability, or death. And while it's entirely possible to use a ladder safely, many people simply don't. In fact, OSHA's third most cited safety violation 2022 was the ladder standard for the construction industry.
So with all that in mind, let's take a quick look at what it means to work safely with a ladder and prevent falls.
Fall Protection Equipment and Ladders
Before sending employees to work at height, you need a fall protection plan in place. Depending on the situation, that plan might involve providing personal fall arrest systems for each worker, installing guardrails near leading edges, and posting appropriate signage.
However, there have been cases of employers or supervisors trying to avoid all those precautions by sending workers up on a ladder and having them do their job from one of the top rungs. That's clever, I suppose, but it's also unsafe. There are no loopholes in the regulations that allow workers to do jobs at height without safety gear simply because they keep two feet on a ladder.
Ladders serve an important and simple purpose: getting the user up to a higher level and allowing them to climb back down afterward. Using them for anything more can create unsafe working conditions and lead to otherwise avoidable injuries.
If scaffolding isn't practical and working from a ladder is unavoidable (for instance, completing a task at height in a stairwell), the ladder should be used in conjunction with a personal fall arrest system. This will ensure that the consequences of a fall are minimized and the risk of injury is significantly reduced.
(Learn more in 3 Risks Your Fall Arrest Planning May Overlook)
Ladder Safety Tips
Ladders are a great tool, but it's best not to become complacent when using them. Even if you are comfortable climbing a ladder, always take the extra minute to inspect it and make sure it's set up safely.
Here are additional safety tips to follow:
- Inspect the ladder prior to each use
- Never use a ladder that is missing a rung or is otherwise defective
- Never use the top rung as a step
- Always maintain three points of contact when climbing the ladder
- Ensure that the base of the ladder is secure
- Never place a ladder on an unstable surface
- Wear proper footwear when climbing the ladder
- Fully extend the ladder before using it
- Do not lean away from the ladder to complete work tasks
- Do not use ladders near doorways unless the door is locked and properly marked
- Use barriers to deter passersby from going near the ladder
Falls from ladders can be prevented by implementing safe work practices. By providing employees with training on safe ladder use and making it part of your toolbox talks, you'll have a crew that can climb safely and without injury.