Rung By Rung

Construction sites are complex. With every minute, the project inches toward completion, and the landscape changes. This is the reason why preplanning is instrumental in completing construction projects on schedule and accident-free. Ladders, scaffolds and aerial lifts play an important role in preplanning.

Ladders are to be used when there is a break in elevation of 19 inches (48 centimeters) or more with no ramp or runway. Construction employers must provide a stairway or ladder at all points of access for workers. When there is only one point of access between levels, employers must keep it clear of obstacles to permit free passage by workers. If free passage becomes restricted, employers must provide a second point of access and ensure workers use it. When there are more than two points of access between levels, employers must ensure that at least one point of access remains clear.

These requirements do not apply to ladders specifically manufactured for scaffold access and egress, but they apply to job-made and manufactured portable ladders intended for general-purpose use. OSHA 29 CFR 1926.451 Subpart L addresses rules for ladders used on scaffolds. Portable and fixed ladders are the most commonly used types in construction.

When selecting the proper ladder for a task, there are four major classifications based on maximum-rated working loads. These duty ratings should be displayed on color-coded labels on the ladders’ side rails. The following are the categories:

• Type III—Light Duty, 200 lbs. (household use)
• Type II—Medium Duty, 225 lbs. (commercial handymen, light maintenance and mechanics)
• Type I—Heavy Duty, 250 lbs. (tradesmen, construction and industrial)
• Type 1A—Extra-Heavy Duty, 300 lbs. (heavy industrial use)

It’s good to know other facts about ladders. For instance, of the portable ladders common on most construction sites, they may be either self-supporting (step ladders) or non-self-supporting (extension ladders). There are hundreds of specialized portable ladders on the market today. Ladder construction materials may include steel, aluminum, wood and fiberglass. Keep in mind that neither OSHA nor ANSI actually certifies that the ladders meet ANSI’s minimum construction standards. Rather, the manufacturer’s testing laboratory certifies the ladders.

Consider these basic requirements when using ladders:

• Maintain ladders free of oil, grease and other slipping hazards.
• Do not load ladders beyond their maximum intended load nor beyond their manufacturer’s rated capacity.
• Use ladders only for their designated purpose.
• Use ladders only on stable and level surfaces unless secured to prevent accidental movement.
• Do not use ladders on slippery surfaces unless secured or provided with slip-resistant feet to prevent accidental movement.
• Do not use slip-resistant feet as a substitute for exercising care when placing, lashing or holding a ladder on a slippery surface.
• Secure ladders placed in areas, such as passageways, doorways, driveways, or where they can be displaced by workplace activities or traffic (to prevent accidental movement), or use a barricade to keep traffic or activity away from the ladder.
• Keep areas around the top and bottom of ladders clear.
• Do not move, shift or extend ladders while in use.
• Use ladders equipped with nonconductive side rails if the worker or the ladder could contact exposed energized electrical equipment.
• Face the ladder when moving up or down.
• Use at least one hand to grasp the ladder when climbing.

Due to the large number of serious accidents associated with scaffold working surfaces, it is important to become familiar with some of the basic requirements. Scaffolds come in many shapes and sizes, depending on intended use. Tubular steel scaffolding is widely used in commercial construction. It should be erected and used in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations. Proper seating and locking of all connections and using the correct devices are important points to follow.

• A light-duty tube-and-coupler scaffold should have all posts, bearers, runners and bracing of nominal 2-inch outside diameter steel tubing. The posts shall be spaced no more than 6 feet apart by 10 feet along the length of the scaffold.
• When used, other structural metals must be designed to carry an equivalent load. No dissimilar metals shall be used together on any tube-coupler scaffold.
• Guardrails and toe boards must be installed on all open sides and ends of platforms more than 10 feet above the ground or floor.
• Scaffolds 4 to 10 feet in height, having a minimum horizontal dimension in either direction of less than 45 inches, shall have standard guardrails installed on all open sides and ends of the platform.
• Guardrails must be 2-inches-by-4-inches, or the equivalent, approximately 42 inches high, with a midrail, when required. Supports must be at intervals not exceeding 8 feet. Toe board and the guardrail, extending along the entire opening, must consist of No. 18 gauge U.S. standard wire -inch mesh, or the equivalent.
• Scaffolds and their components must be capable of supporting at least four times the maximum intended load without failure.
• Any scaffold—including accessories such as braces, brackets, trusses, screw legs, ladders, etc.—damaged or weakened from any cause must be immediately repaired or replaced.
• Planking used must be scaffold-grade, or equivalent, as recognized by approved grading rules for the species of wood used. All planking or platforms must be overlapped by a minimum of 12 inches, or secured from movement. Scaffold planks must extend over their end supports not less than 6 inches or more than 18 inches. The poles, legs or uprights of scaffolds must be plumb and securely and rigidly braced to prevent swaying and displacement.
• Overhead protection must be provided for men on a scaffold exposed to overhead hazards.
• Slippery conditions on scaffolds shall be eliminated immediately after they occur.
• An access ladder or equivalent safe access must be provided.
• Most importantly, no scaffold shall be erected, moved, dismantled or altered except under the supervision of competent people or as requested for corrective reasons by the construction site health and safety officer.

Aerial lifts
Aerial lifts (man lifts) are one of the most common devices used to conduct work from elevated locations and are commonly used to replace traditional scaffolding. Aerial lifts are defined as “any vehicle-mounted device, telescoping or articulating, or both, which is used to position personnel.”

Commonly used terms in construction for aerial lifts are often referred to by specific brand names, such as JLG, Genie High Lift, Sky Jack Lift and Snorkel Lift.

It is important to note that there is a difference between aerial lifts and scissors lifts. These requirements can be found in General 1910 Subpart F or CFR 1926 Subpart L. When using aerial lifts, some safety considerations must be verified:

• Lift controls must be tested daily.
• Operators must be trained.
• Upper and lower controls are required and must be plainly marked. Lower controls must be provided for overriding the upper controls.
• Caution should be taken for potential crushing hazards (e.g., booming into the overhead pinch point).
• Brakes must be set; outriggers used, if so equipped; and wheels chocked, if on an incline.
• Unless designed to, aerial lift trucks may not be moved when the boom is elevated in a working position with workers in the basket.
• Employees must work within the basket.
• Body belts with lanyards must be used. Body belts are for positioning only, not for fall protection. Harnesses may be used in lieu of body belts.
• ANSI has additional requirements for these types of devices [ANSI/SIE A92.2 and A92.5]. Load limit must not be exceeded.

While these are some of the basic requirements for ladders, scaffold and aerial lifts, it is important to research the topic for construction preplanning purposes. The successful implementation of these requirements will contribute to the creation of an accident-free environment.

RIVERA is NECA’s director of safety. Reach him at

About the Author

Jerry Rivera

NECA Director of Safety
Jerry Rivera is a former director of safety for NECA director of safety, chartered with representing the electrical construction industry in subject matters related to health, safety and environment, including regulatory activity, consensus standard...

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