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K-State Today

April 10, 2012

A safe climb: 20 steps for portable ladder use

Submitted by Lisa Linck

Workers at job sites across the country travel up and down ladders – some as tall as 60 feet – every day. Among the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's top 10 most frequently cited standards in fiscal year 2011, ladder violations ranked eighth, with a total of 3,244.

The AFL-CIO-affiliated center for Construction Research and Training estimates that falls from ladders are responsible for 16 percent of all fatal injuries in the construction industry and 24 percent of nonfatal injuries involving days away from work. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary figures for 2010 show that, overall, 129 workers were killed after falling from ladders.

The following 20 steps can help keep workers safe on and around ladders: 

  1. Make sure workers are trained. Train novice and expert users on best practices and inform them of the possible hazards associated with ladder use.
  2. Select the proper ladder. Oftentimes, ladder accidents can be attributed to using the wrong ladder. Consider factors such as type (straight, step, extension, etc.), length, and material to fit the job. For more, visit www.laddersafety.org/chosetherightladder.aspx.
  3. Determine the duty rating. Duty ratings are determined by the manufacturer to ensure a ladder can safely support the weight of a worker and any tools or material carried onto the ladder. Before purchasing, consider the maximum weight the ladder will need to support and choose a duty rating to match.
  4. Inspect each ladder before climbing. Thorough ladder inspection should be made before being put into use. When inspecting, clear grease or dirt that may hide possible defects. Check for loose steps, rungs, nails, screws, bolts; broken uprights or braces; damaged or worn nonslip bases; and missing or unreadable warning labels.
  5. Identify defective ladders. Clearly identify ladders that are waiting for repair and are not safe for use. If a ladder needs to be taken out of service, make sure it is destroyed so that someone else doesn’t try to use it.
  6. Transport ladders with care. When carrying a ladder, the front should be elevated, specifically around blind corners, in aisles, and through doorways. While transporting a ladder on a truck or in a trailer, it must be properly supported parallel to the bed, and the support points should be padded.
  7. Look for nearby hazards. Be aware of clutter in walkways or electrical cords that can become tripping hazards. Properly store all supplies and secure cords to avoid this possible hazard.
  8. Safe setup. Use two people to erect a ladder. Start by placing the bottom of ladder into a crevice of the ground and walking the rest of it up. Make sure the base is placed on a level, stable and unmovable surface. 
  9. 4-to-1 ratio. Non-self supporting ladders should be set up at an angle of 75.5 degrees for optimal resistance and balance. The length of the ladder’s side rails should be 4 times the distance from base of ladder to the structure. Too far out, the ladder may break or slip; too close, the ladder can tip backward. 
  10. Ascending and descending. Face the ladder and hold onto the side rails when ascending or descending a ladder. Skipping rungs to speed up the process is not recommended.
  11. Maintain three points of contact. While climbing up or down a ladder, the worker should maintain three points of contact: two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand in contact with the ladder, cleats or side rails.
  12. Use ladders for their intended purpose. Ladders are not made to be used horizontally for a runway, brace, skid, lever, platform or a scaffold to travel between two points. Using a ladder for anything other than its intended purpose is dangerous.
  13. Do not use metal ladders near electrical work.  Be aware of where electrical sources are located. When working near electrical sources, fiberglass ladders should be used to avoid the risk of electrical shock or subsequent fall.
  14. Never overextend. Overextending or reaching over the side rails of a ladder can shift your center of gravity and cause you to lose your balance. Instead, move the ladder to where the work needs to be done. As a rule of thumb, always keep the center of your belt buckle between the side rails to prevent falling off sideways.
  15. Avoid lashing. Lashing is the technique of extending a ladder’s length by fastening or tying multiple ladders together. This is not what the manufacturer intended and is, therefore, unsafe.
  16. Access to upper landing surfaces. When portable ladders are used for access to an upper landing surface, the side rails should extend at least 3 feet above the upper landing surface to ensure proper safety. This will help avoid tipping or causing the base of the ladder slide out. This also helps employees get off and back on the ladder.
  17. Avoid unsafe weather conditions. Ladders should not be used during adverse weather conditions such as strong winds, storms, heavy rain, sleet, snow or hail.
  18. Consider possible alternatives. Always consider alternatives before scaling up a two story ladder. The higher you climb, the less stable you become. Articulating man lifts or hydraulic lifts are meant for jobs at that height.
  19. Proper storage.  Store ladders in areas with good ventilation. Keep ladders away from radiators, stoves, steam pipes and other areas of excessive heat or dampness. Hang ladders horizontally with more than two supports to prevent warping.
  20. Step it up.  Remember, ladders are inherently dangerous. To stay safe, follow these 20 tips and other best practices at home and on the job.

Source:  National Safety Council