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Cool Tools: Ladders And Ladder Safety

By Jeff Griffin | May 15, 2016
Little Giant SafeFrame Housekeeping Pad-2.jpg

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Ladders have been in use for thousands of years. A quick Google search of “first ladder” returns information about a Mesolithic rock painting at least 10,000 years old, the first historic evidence of a ladder. The image depicts two people using a ladder to reach a wild honeybee nest. The long ladder appears to be flexible, perhaps made of some kind of grass or plant.


Today, most people consider the prototypical ladder as being made of heavy wood and having two side rails connected by cross rungs. Obviously, there have been significant improvements since then. The first stepladder was introduced in the mid-1800s, but most changes have come in the last 50 years. We now have ladders made of aluminum or fiberglass, extension ladders and stepladders, various types of folding ladders, and ladders with multiple convenience and safety features.


Despite the improvements to today’s versatile ladders that are intended to help make them safer, users still fall off or find other ways to injure themselves, sometimes fatally.


“Every day, nearly 2,000 people are injured while using a ladder, and as many as 100 of them will suffer long-term disabilities,” said Ryan Moss, chief executive officer of Little Giant Ladder Systems, Springville, Utah, and president of the American Ladder Institute. “And every day, one person will die in a ladder-related accident.”


Moss said three of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) top 10 safety violations in 2015 were related to ladders: No. 1 was fall protection, No. 3 was scaffolding and No. 7 was ladders. These three issues are consistently in the top 10 OSHA violations.


Those statistics aside, ladder manufacturers must be credited for continuing to dramatically improve design and construction to make their products safer to use. These improvements include producing ladders made of nonconducting materials mandatory for electrical work.


“Safety drives everything at Little Giant,” Moss said. “Safety training is important, but it’s not enough. Ladder designs must target eliminating and guarding against risks. Preventing injuries and saving lives drives all of our decisions about product. We look at the leading causes of ladder accidents and design around them.”


For electricians, ladders must be fiberglass; aluminum is not acceptable.


“That goes for other trades, too, if they will be working anywhere around electricity,” Moss said.


Placing ladders on unstable surfaces, climbing past the top rung, turning sideways and leaning or reaching while on a ladder are only a few user mistakes that increase accident risk.


Ladder features that address these risks include new materials that reduce ladder weight; wider, “sumo stance” bases on extension ladders that add stability and reduce the risk of side slip; leveling adjustments on adjustable legs for ladder placement on uneven surfaces; wider steps and platforms on A-frame ladders; and bottom rungs that indicate to the users when they have been stepped on.


[SB]“Statistics show nearly 20 percent of ladder accidents result from stepping off the ladder before reaching the bottom rung and resulting in falling,” Moss said.


The Little Giant SafeFrame design addresses the three most common causes of stepladder accidents: standing on the top cap or top rung, stepping off a ladder before reaching the bottom rung, and using the ladder on uneven surfaces.


“The SafeFrame’s patent-pending design eliminates the top rung, preventing access to the top cap,” he said. “It also has an extra-deep standing rung and new Face-Forward top cap to encourage operators to use the ladder correctly.


“Patent-pending Ground Cue bottom-rung indicator provides an audible and tactile cue signaling the user that it is safe to step to the ground. A patent-pending, integrated quad-leg leveling system easily adjusts the SafeFrame legs to nearly any unlevel surface to provide stability,” Moss said.


Little Giant offers a wide range of ladder types in both aluminum and fiberglass models with a variety of working heights and all weight-bearing classifications. Moss said the 6- and 8-foot fiberglass A-frame and 24-foot fiberglass extension models are most popular with electricians.


Alex Griffin, marketing coordinator at Louisville Ladder, Louisville, Ky., said today’s ladders have an emphasis on safety with features designed to enable safer work by the user.


“These features include impact absorbing, slip-resistant boots, ProTop with multiple slots to keep tools to be within reach, enabling the user to work safer and more efficiently,” Griffin said. “We have two FXPro Platform ladder series providing a larger working space for the user. Lightweight extension ladders are designed to reduce lifting injuries. Our newest innovation is the Cross-Step Ladder [which] combines a shelf and stepladder that also folds in to allow it to lean against buildings and in corners.”


This ladder combines a shelf and stepladder in a two-in-one design that can be used in multiple types of placements, including against a wall, building or pole. Angles of the stepladder allow users to get close to work. Its ProTop holds multiple tools in easy reach. The boots have slip-resistant tread. Inside spreader braces protect the ladder during transport.


Griffin said the ladders most often purchased by electricians are Type 1A step and extension ladders with 300-pound duty ratings. The most popular stepladders are 6 and 8 feet high. The most-
purchased extension ladders are 24, 28 and 32 feet. Combination ladders, which merge a step and an extension ladder, typically are purchased in 6-, 7- and 8-foot versions. Accessories most often ordered for electrical work are stabilizers, V-rungs and web poles.


Regarding training, Louisville Ladder offers free ladder-safety training and ladder assessment.


“We will come in and demonstrate how to use different ladders safely,” Griffin said. “During the ladder assessment, we will walk through the ladders being used and point out any unsafe issues and OSHA violations.”


Chris Filardi, vice president of marketing at Werner Co., Greenville, Pa., said some of the newest models on the market offer many benefits, including a 360-degree work zone, which allows users to extend their reach without having to reposition the ladder.


“In addition, larger platforms provide long standing comfort while multifunctional tops conveniently organize tools and accessories where they are needed— at the top of the ladder,” Filardi said.


Ladders are not a one-size-fits-all proposition.


“Each user and application can be unique,” Filardi said. “Electricians and all users need to identify the best climbing equipment for their particular job. Ladder accessories that can provide enhanced functionality at the top of the ladder to hold tools and supplies seem to be most popular for electricians.”


Many types of fiberglass ladders are suitable for electricians and installers of alarm- and building-control systems.


“However, we highly recommend our newest style of ladders, the Podium,” Filardi said. “Available in fiberglass, they are also ideal for working at fixed heights and allow users to work facing any direction, which is a great benefit to electricians as well as any users.”


Other Podium features include seven-layer fiberglass construction that is nonconductive for working near electricity; a wraparound guardrail providing an extra point of contact; the HolsterTop to organize tools and accessories at the top of the ladder where they are needed; and an edge bracing system that provides enhanced strength and that also helps prevent rail damage.


“Education has always been a cornerstone of Werner’s relationship with end-users and distributors,” Filardi said. “Werner has also invested significant time and resources to centralize the climbing-safety initiative with a complimentary multilingual online training program. The online format enables the incorporation of videos and testing with the ability for companies to electronically monitor how many employees took the course and tests and allows oversight to ensure that the message is being communicated accurately.”

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].

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