Despite the regulations and standards in place, falls from heights remain a consistent cause of worker injury and death, year after year. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the leading cause of worker deaths in the construction industry are falls — accounting for about one-third of all occupational fatalities in 2018.
Most would believe that these tragic accidents are a result of falling from an elevated surface, such as a rooftop or balcony. Yet, many fail to recognize that over 300 people die from ladder falls every year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH). That doesn’t even account for the 500,000 people treated for ladder-related injuries annually!
Fortunately, falls from ladders are preventable. OSHA outlines exactly how these tragedies can be avoided in their standard Subpart X CFR 1926.1053. Below you’ll find the do’s and don’ts of ladder safety, as well as a downloadable poster to help you get started.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Ladder Safety According to OSHA
1. Do: Train Workers on Safe Ladder Usage
Take the time to regularly train each worker on proper ladder safety procedures and how to recognize and minimize ladder-related hazards. Be sure to train workers on fall protection and use of safety harnesses, as recommended by Standard CFR 1926.501, Duty to have Fall Protection.
Common ladder hazards that workers should be aware of include:
Slippery, soft, or unstable work surfaces
Broken or damaged ladders
High traffic areas or walkways
Electrical wires or arc flash hazards
Rain, wind, or other inclimate working conditions
Heavy working loads
2. Do: Choose the Right Ladder for the Job
Check OSHA standards for the type of ladder you should be using. Use only Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) approved ladders and select ladders based on their load capacity. Remember that the total load capacity must reflect these four critical factors:
Weight of clothing and personal protective equipment
Weight of tools and supplies carried on ladder
Weight of tools and supplies stored on ladder
*Source for Types IA, I, II, III: Subpart X—Stairways and Ladders, Appendix A (American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 14.1, 14.2, 14.5 (1982)) of OSHA’s Construction standards. Source for Type IAA: ANSI 14.1, 14.2, 14.5 (2009), which are non-mandatory guidelines.
3. Do: Complete Ladder Inspection
Check for loose or missing steps or rungs, cracked or bent rails, missing labels, loose or bent pulleys, damage, rust or corrosion. This includes inspecting any steps, shoes, rails, pail shelves, tops, spreaders, platforms, or other portions of the ladder. If there is any doubt, remove the questionable ladder from service. Additionally, make sure the ladder is fully open and locked before climbing.
4. Do: Create Barriers in High Traffic Zones
If work must be performed in areas where pedestrian or vehicle traffic is likely, use barricades to prevent accidental contact with the ladder and affected workers. Use clear signage to alert oncoming traffic of the work being performed.
5. Do: Ensure 3-Point Contact
Never try to balance when working at heights, especially on a ladder. When climbing a ladder or working on a ladder, always keep three points of contact. This can be in the form of two hands and one foot on the ladder, or two feet and one hand on the ladder.
6. Do: Have a Dropped Object Prevention Program
Fall protection is just as important for tools and hard hats as it is for worker safety. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most overlooked aspects of a fall protection program. Objects that are dropped at heights increase the chance of severe injury or death to workers or onlookers below, so appropriate measures like tool lanyards should be considered.
7. Don’t Overreach or Climb Higher Than Recommended
OSHA recommends keeping your torso between ladder rails. Overreaching or extending past that zone can dramatically reduce the stability of both the ladder and the worker.
8. Don’t Use Metal Ladders Near Electrical Equipment or Power Lines
Aluminum or other metal ladders should be avoided if working around electrical wires, power lines, or other electrical hazards. In this application, wood or fiberglass ladders may be your best bet.
9. Don’t Paint or Alter Ladder
Any alteration to the ladder that is not approved by the manufacturer can hide defects that could lead to worker injury or fatality. If you’re looking to protect a wood ladder, OSHA recommends using a clear sealer such as varnish, shellac, linseed oil, or a wood preservative.
10. Don’t Move Ladder While It is Occupied
Never move, shift, or sit on a ladder while a person, tools, or equipment is on it. While that may seem like an obvious no-no, it remains a major problem on job sites. Even the smallest shift can cause devastating injury, so be sure to exercise caution any time you move a ladder.
There are several types of industrial ladders on the market today and they all serve a unique purpose. Louisville Ladder has provided a few tips on how to choose the right ladder for your job.
Below are just a few varieties of ladders that may be right for you.
Stepladders are self-supporting portable ladders that are not adjustable and have flat steps and a hinged base. Stepladders can help you get closer to the work area and some even double as a leaning ladder (However, the ladder must be OSHA approved to double as a leaning ladder. Louisville Ladder marks their approved ladders with a hi-vis green top for easy recognition.)
- Platform Stepladders are ideal for applications where standing on a ladder for an extended period of time is necessary. The top rail guard helps to stabilize the user and the platform itself often has slip-resistant tread.
Extension Ladders are non-self-supporting portable ladders that are adjustable in length. Extension ladders are constructed of a ladder base and vertical extension section that can be extended and locked in place to reach higher elevations. For optimum safety, pay close attention to the rungs on extension ladders. These components take the brunt of abuse and damage can lead to early failure.
Specialty Ladders are those ladders that usually only serve one particular purpose. A specialty ladder could be a tripod ladder, mobile platforms, rolling scaffolds, or even trestle ladders. It’s important to note that while it can be tempting to try to use these ladders in other applications, they are not multi-purpose and can lead to serious injury when not used properly.
Take a look at this video for info on some new innovations in ladder safety.
Our FREE downloadable "Do’s and Don'ts of Ladder Safety" poster is packed full of helpful tips to help you prevent falls from ladders.
Just following a few simple best practices on ladder safety can not only improve your workers’ safety but also reduce expensive worker’s compensation claims and regulatory fines. If you have any questions on how you can improve your ladder safety or fall protection program, contact your local ABATIX Rep today.