Ladders, like wire cutters and electrical tape, are important to the electrical contractor; however, their use tends to carry with it many hazards. When used properly, the hazards can be controlled. The safety rules that apply to ladders are a combination of OSHA regulations and proven common-sense practices.

The first step is to choose the right ladder for the job. It is important to be sure the ladder has the proper duty rating to carry the combined weight of the user and any material being installed. The duty rating gives you the ladder’s maximum weight capacity.

There are four categories of duty ratings established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI):

  1. Type IA: These ladders have a duty rating of 300 pounds. Type IA ladders are recommended for extra-heavy-duty industrial use.
  2. Type I: These ladders have a duty rating of 250 pounds. Type I ladders are manufactured for heavy-duty use.
  3. Type II: These ladders have a duty rating of 225 pounds. Type II ladders are approved for medium-duty use.
  4. Type III: These ladders have a duty rating of 200 pounds. Type III ladders are rated for light-duty use.

OSHA regulations refer to ANSI and state that Type IA and Type I are the only ladders permitted on a construction job site. Because it is impossible to determine which of the four types a ladder is just by looking, ANSI requires a permanent duty-rating sticker be placed on the side rail. 

Other factors in selecting the appropriate ladder are style and material from which the ladder is constructed. For example, an extension ladder is placed against a surface to access a higher level. A stepladder should not be used for this purpose. Ladders constructed of metal (e.g., aluminum) must not be used when performing electrical work.

Once the ladder is chosen, the work can begin. Like all other equipment, ladders should be inspected before use. Wooden ladders need to be checked for cracks or splits in the wood. A ladder made of fiberglass or steel should be checked for bends or cracks. If a ladder is found to be damaged in any way it must be tagged “defective” and removed from service.

When placing a ladder for use, be sure the feet are on a firm, level, dry setting. If it is necessary to use a ladder on uneven footing, the surface should be built up with firm material until the ladder is level. Ladders not on a stable or level surface must be secured to prevent accidental displacement. If it is necessary to put a ladder in a doorway, the door should be locked or at least blocked to prevent entry. During the daily inspection, the steps should be cleaned of any grease, oil, mud, snow or any other slippery material that could interfere with your footing.

When climbing a ladder, the worker should face it using both hands to hold on to the side rails. Feet should be placed at the middle of the steps to keep the worker’s weight balanced. When you find it necessary to get tools or materials up a ladder, never carry them by hand. This shifts the body weight and doesn’t allow for the use of both hands while climbing. The safe way to get equipment up to the work site is to either hoist them into position or use a tool belt/vest.

Never overreach from a ladder or lean too far to the side. Overreaching is one of the most common causes of falls from ladders. A good basic rule is to always keep your belt buckle inside the rails of the ladder. Work as far as you can reach comfortably, then move the ladder to a new position. When moving a ladder, always get down. Never try to move it by rocking, jogging or pushing it away from a supporting wall.

Some other sensible points are to never use a ladder under the influence of alcohol, drugs or when feeling sick or dizzy, and when using tools, never leave them on top of a ladder. If the tools fall, they can hit you or a co-worker. Also, a ladder should be used by only one person at a time, unless it is specifically designed for use by two people.

Ladders are both essential and potentially dangerous pieces of equipment. However, the dangers can be minimized easily by using these simple, common-sense practices. The work of an electrician could not be accomplished without ladders. We just need to be very careful to use them correctly.            EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.