Keys to Safe Ladder Use
Using the wrong kind of ladder, or using the right one improperly, can lead to serious injury.
We’ve been climbing up and down ladders since we discovered the slide and monkey bars during our first visit to the playground in elementary school. With all that experience under our belts, climbing a ladder at work should be a piece of cake, right?
Well, not exactly.
Like any tool, having the right ladder leads to higher productivity and a job well done. However, using the wrong kind of ladder at your facility can lead to serious injury or even death. Taking the time to choose the right ladder makes good, safe sense for everyone.
A stepladder is a common fixture in workplaces and on job sites. Its convenient, hinged design makes it easy to carry and store. While a stepladder’s height is fixed, it comes in a variety of heights, ranging from four to twenty feet.
Stepladders are intended for one worker’s use, and it’s unsafe for more than one person to be on it. However, if the job requires two people to work together, double-sided ladders, which have two sets of steps, offer a very convenient solution.
Another variation of the stepladder is the platform ladder. It’s similar to a stepladder, yet features a large, stable work surface to stand on. The platform provides more room to stand on, but should still only be used by one person at a time.
Stepladders should be used on firm level surfaces with the spreader bars fully open and locked. A stepladder should never be leaned against a wall and climbed.
An extension ladder offers more versatility in length than a stepladder. It consists of two or more sections, which adjust the ladder to different lengths. The sections must be assembled so that the sliding upper section is on top of the lower section, and the lock assembly must be secured.
These ladders can be used by only one person at a time. Measures must be taken to ensure that they can’t be accidentally moved or displaced. To accomplish this, extension ladders can be tied off at the top or bottom.
Proper placement requires that the working length of the extension ladder be four times the horizontal distance from the ladder’s base to the structure.
Ladders are generally constructed of three different materials:
- Aluminum – which is lighter in weight
- Fiberglass – ideal for use when there’s a chance for contact with electricity
- Wood – which should never be painted, as painting can hide dangerous defects
Workers should always be trained in the proper use, placement, and handling of ladders and must set up the ladder according to the manufacturer’s safety instructions and warnings.
Before selecting a ladder, be sure to determine the necessary duty rating. The worker’s weight plus the weight of any tools that are carried must be less than the duty rating specified by the manufacturer.
Inspecting the ladder for missing or rickety steps, rungs, or cleats, faulty parts, and broken side rails is a critical first step to safe use. If a ladder is damaged, it must be replaced or removed from service until repaired.
Helpful Tips for Safe Use
- Ensure that the ladder is free of oil, grease, and other hazards that could cause slips (see 6 Tips for Safer Walking-Working Surfaces for more advice on preventing slips)
- Make sure there are no wires overhead
- Ascend and descend while facing the ladder, maintain a confident hold, and firmly set one foot before moving the other, maintaining three points of contact
- Use a tool belt or tow rope to carry tools
- Wear shoes with non-slip soles that are free of mud, oil, or anything slippery
- The worker’s body should be centered between the rails while maintaining a firm grip
- Never over-reach
- Don’t stand above the second step from the top of a stepladder or the fourth rung from the top of an extension ladder
- Ladders must not be placed on boxes, barrels, or other unstable objects
- Ladders shouldn’t be placed in front of closed doors that could open toward the ladder. These doors must be left open, locked, or guarded
- Never attempt to move a ladder without first climbing down and getting off
- Don’t use ladders in storms or high winds
Choosing the right ladder is a key component in providing a safe and productive work environment. Remembering to practice safe ladder use helps reduce accidents and injuries on the job site.
More from AD Safety Network
- When should you consider using custom molded earplugs?
- At what height do falls become deadly?
- Who should be responsible for rescuing fallen workers?
- What kind of training do loading dock workers need?
- How often should I inspect a loading dock?
- How is wind chill calculated?
- What is the difference between occupational safety and process safety?
- Why should rubber insulating gloves be tested?
- What happens if I tie off at the foot level with a personal SRL?
- Why is testing with a NAIL4PET accredited lab important?
- What kind of face protection do I need when using a chainsaw?
- What is the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica?
- What is silica and why is it hazardous?
- What is 'Table 1' and why is it so important?
- Video Q&A - What is a safety policy?
- What kind of fire extinguisher is best for your work site?
- How do I choose the right respirator and mask for working with silica?
- Can I wear fall protection equipment over my rainwear or winter gear?
- When do I need a cage ladder?
- What types of gloves protect your hands from hazardous chemicals?
- How come I still got hurt while wearing flame-resistant clothing?
- What dangers do workers face when working outside in the winter?
- How do I win over my most reluctant employees?
- What kinds of jobs should use disposable safety gloves?
- Is it true that safety shouldn't be a top priority?
- When are employers allowed to conduct drug and alcohol tests on their employees?
- How can I get employees more involved in the risk assessment plan?
- What are some of the indirect costs of accidents?
- How often do fire extinguishers need to be inspected?
- What is the best way to store rubber safety gloves?
- How much voltage protection is needed for safety gloves used in electrical work?
- What is the difference between a safety valve and a release valve?
- When do workers have the right to refuse to work?
- What is the most overlooked item when designing Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures?
- What are some of the misconceptions about heat stress and what should we do to address them?
- What tools should I tether when working at heights?
- What types of gas should I watch out for when working in a confined space?
- How do you create a culture of safety in your workplace?
- What is the difference between industrial safety and industrial hygiene?
- Is it important to get PPE assessments by trained professionals?
- What is a fault tree analysis?
- What kind of respirator cartridge should I use?
- What are the safety benefits of a whistleblower program?
- What type of safety record-keeping and recording should we be doing?
- What makes a hi-vis safety vest ANSI compliant?
- Why is it important to have air sampling done to determine my PELs?
- What is the life expectancy of fall protection equipment?
- What are hot work and cold work permits?
- What are some basic fall protection rules that each of my workers need to understand?
- How much clearance do I need to safely use a Leading Edge SRL?
- What is the difference between an acute hazard and a chronic hazard?
- What’s the difference between a bump test, a calibration check, and a full calibration?
- Is there any legislation regulating lone worker safety I should know about before hiring?
- What kind of fire extinguisher and accessories should be kept on hand on a factory floor?
- What can companies do to reduce their lost time injury frequency rates?
- Video Q&A - What's your safety network like?
- Video Q&A - What are the 3 levels of safety?
- Video Q&A - How do you treat a near miss?
- Does body weight affect falls differently?
- What ages are most affected by falls?
- Why do workers take risks?
- What Is the Difference Between OHSAS 18001 and 18002?
- What is the difference between lost time injury and medical treatment case?
- What is the difference between occupational health and safety and workplace health and safety?
- What is the difference between occupational health and occupational safety?
- What is the difference between a lost time injury and a disabling injury?