The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) reports that falls remain a leading cause of occupational injury and mortality nationwide. The industries cited for OSHA violations include wholesalers, specialty trade contractors, civil engineering and building construction, real estate, equipment and machinery repair and building maintenance. Here are some examples of why and how fall-from-a-ladder accidents happen: workers utilized the wrong type of ladder for their job assignment (ladders were too heavy for the job, which caused sprains and strains); workers used a wrong way of leveling ladders (boards or bricks instead of leveling devices); employees tried to over-reach which caused trip-and-fall accidents (they should have added outriggers to the bottom of an extension ladder to increase the footprint or just moved a ladder closer to the job area).
It doesn’t take expensive equipment to prevent these kinds of accidents. All it takes is common sense, backed by effective training and a thorough development and enforcement of best practices.
Working on and around stairs and ladders is common to many workplaces. Basic safety rules that apply to most tools also apply to ladders. And because it seems like an ordinary tool to use, most workers do not take them seriously which increases their chances of getting injured while using ladders.
OSHA Standards for Ladder Use
Here are the main requirements:
- Each self-supporting or not self-supporting portable ladder should be capable of supporting the following loads: At least four times the maximum intended load, except each extra-heavy-duty type 1A metal or plastic ladder should sustain at least 3.3 times the maximum intended load.
- Each fixed ladder: At least two loads of 250 pounds each, concentrated between any two consecutive attachments plus anticipated loads caused by ice buildup, winds, rigging, and impact loads resulting from the use of ladder safety devices. Each step shall be capable of supporting a single concentrated load of at least 250 pounds applied in the middle of the step.
- The minimum clear distance between the sides of the step ladders and between the side rails of other fixed ladders should be should be 16 inches.
- Fixed ladders should have a clear width of 15 inches to the nearest object on each side of the centerline of a ladder.
- The steps of fixed metal ladders manufactured after March 15, 1991, shall be corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid-resistant material, or otherwise treated to minimize slipping.
OSHA requires that portable wood ladders be inspected frequently. Before using a ladder, inspect it to make sure it is in a good working condition.
Ladder Inspection Checklist:
- Check all rungs and step connections for bends, cracks, splits, or corrosion,
- Make sure the ladder’s feet work properly and have slip-resistant pads,
- Make sure rung locks and spreader braces are working,
- Ensure that all bolts and rivets are secure,
- Make sure steps, rungs, and other ladder parts are free of oil, grease and other materials,
- On extension ladders, make sure the rope and pulley work and the rope are not frayed or tangled.
Five Tips: How To Choose the Best Ladder
- Types: Do you need a fixed or portable ladder?
Fixed ladders are ones that can be fixed in place on a building; portable ladders are movable. If you require a portable ladder, assess whether you need a self-supporting ladder, like an “A” frame, or a straight or extension ladder.
- Consider the Weight Rating: 200, 225, 250, 300, or 375 lbs
Since ladders are usually not assigned to a particular worker, consider buying a ladder suitable for the heaviest person in your team. Ladders are rated at 200, 225, 250, 300, and 375 lbs of the maximum recommended total load (including worker’s weight, clothes, tools, shoes, and the load a worker is carrying). Construction jobs should use a Type 1, 1A, or 1AA, which hold up to 250, 300, and 375 pounds, respectively.
- Choose the Best Material for Your Application: Wood, Aluminum, Fiberglass
Fiberglass ladders are best for electrical work since they are non-conductive. Aluminum ladders are lighter and more durable than wooden ladders, but their disadvantage is that they cannot be used around electricity. When using a wooden ladder, be sure it’s treated but not painted so you can tell if the ladder structure is sound. Defects may be hidden by the paint. Wood preservatives or clear coatings are usually safe.
- Style: Step ladder (A-frame), Extension ladder, Multi-purpose ladder
If you have a 6’ step ladder, don’t climb above the 4th step. Step ladders are not designed for climbing to the roof, use an extension and a lean-to ladder instead.
- Length: Before choosing a ladder, measure the height that you have to climb and choose a ladder that meets or exceeds this height, depending on the style. Never stack the ladder on something else or tie two ladders together with duct tape.
According to the American Ladder Institute, workers can reduce chances of falling during a climb by:
- wearing slip-resistant shoes with heavy soles to prevent falls and foot fatigue,
- cleaning the soles of shoes often to maximize traction,
- using containers or belts to keep tools handy, so the worker’s hands are free,
- climbing slowly, avoiding fast, sudden movements,
- not attempting to move a ladder while someone is standing on it,
- not using ladders outdoors in bad weather like high winds or heavy rain.
Workers who use ladders are at high risk of injury or death from falls. This hazard can be eliminated or substantially reduced by following the safety regulations mentioned above, and by the enforcement of these best practices in the workplace.
Learn about OSHA Safety and Health regulations for construction; specifically the use of ladders at work sites.
OSHA Quick Card: Portable Ladder Safety offers instructions on preventing falls from portable ladders.