Climbing the Ladder

Each year, thousands of workers are injured while working on ladders. Falls from ladders result in cuts, bruises, broken bones, and in some cases, lost lives. The three most common causes are ladders in poor condition, improper selection and improper use. To prevent accidents and comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, employees must be trained. The following information on ladder safety should be shared with employees.

Rungs or steps on portable ladders must be dimpled, knurled or treated to minimize slipping. A metal spreader or locking device must be provided on stepladders. The device must hold the front and back sections in position when the ladder is in use.

Ladders must have at least one point of access clear at all times. Two or more ladders must be used when the ladder is the only means of entering or exiting a work area with 25 or more employees. Two ladders must also be provided when two-way traffic may occur at the same time.

Defective ladders must be repaired or removed from service and marked or tagged. Ladders must be repaired by professionals trained to restore them to their original conditions. Never paint or cover a ladder with opaque materials that will prevent workers from identifying defects. A ladder removed from service should be tagged or marked “Dangerous Do Not Use.” Immediately notify your supervisor.

Ladders must be capable of supporting loads and must meet specific performance and design criteria. Ladders are classified by maximum weight capacities. which includes the worker's weight and his tools. The classifications and weight limits are as follows:

CLASS IA: 300-lb. maximum capacity (Heavy Duty)

CLASS I: 250-lb. maximum capacity (heavy duty)

CLASS II: 225-lb. maximum capacity (medium duty)

CLASS III: 200-pound maximum capacity (light duty)

Make sure employees inspect ladders before use. Ensure that:

o The ladder has no burrs or sharp edges.

o The ladder is equipped with safety feet in good repair.

o The ladder has no structural damage.

o The rope of the ladder is free of frays or worn sections.

o Stepladders are equipped with spreaders or other locking devices in working order.

o Support braces and other hardware are not damaged.

o All screws and bolts are tight.

o Steps and rungs are not damaged and are in place and firmly attached.

o The ladder is free of oil, grease and other slip hazards.

o All metal parts are lubricated.

o Ladders have not been damaged by fire or corrosive chemicals.

When setting up a ladder, make sure employees follow proper procedures. The ladder must be placed on a level and stable surface. If the ground is soft, the ladder can be placed on a wide board. Some ladders are equipped with automatic levelers. These devices will mechanically adjust the legs and automatically level the ladder. The feet of the ladder are parallel with the surface the ladder rests against.

An extension should be positioned before extending it. The distance from the ladder base to the supporting structure should be one-fourth the length of the ladder. Some ladders have a slope guide pasted to the side rail. A ladder used to access an upper-landing surface must extend at least three feet above the landing.

Ladders must be secured, Anchor the ladder at the top to prevent movement. In addition to anchoring, a grab rail must be installed if the ladder does not extend three feet above of the landing. The bottom of the ladder can be tied or a co-worker positioned to hold it in place. If the ladder is placed in front of a door, lock, guard or block open the door. Barricade passageways, doorways and driveways.

Make sure employees observe the following work practices when using a ladder.

o Never use aluminum ladders when working near exposed electrical lines.

o No more than one person is on a ladder at a time.

o Shoes with clean, nonskid soles are worn.

o A rope or hoist is used to lift tools.

o Employees face the ladder when climbing it.

o Three points of contact are maintained when climbing a ladder. (Two feet, one hand or two hands, one foot)

o Tools are kept in a tool hanger or holder.

o The last two steps on a stepladder are not used.

o The last four ladder rungs on a single or extension ladder are not used.

o The body is centered on the ladder between the side rails.

Sharing these practices with employees is part of preventing accidents. Employees must be held accountable for following safety procedures. Make sure employees have the equipment needed for the job and repair or remove defective equipment from service as described in this article. 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 by e-mail at  


About the Author

Joe O'Connor

Freelance Writer
Joe 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@inte...

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