Working at heights involves increased risks. Three height-related categories are in OSHA’S top 10 most frequently cited standards following work-site inspections: fall protection is first, scaffolding requirements are second and ladders are sixth.
This article covers working safely when using ladders and mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) for inside work. While portable work platforms are not found in the top 10, their use includes fall protection, and some scaffolding standards could also apply to MEWPs.
Nikki Bartoloni, marketing coordinator at the American Ladder Institute (ALI), Chicago, gathered information from multiple ALI sources to answer questions.
The American Ladder Institute is a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to promoting safe ladder use through ladder safety resources, bilingual safety training and the development of ladder safety standards. ALI also represents the common business interests of its members, who are leading ladder and ladder component manufacturers in the United States and Canada.
How potentially dangerous are ladders?
Ladders are not inherently dangerous. Like all tools used at work sites, with the proper care and attention to the product warnings and instructions, ladders are used safely and effectively every day.
What are the most prevalent accidents involving ladders?
According to ALI’s 2020 Ladder Citation Survey, accidents while using ladders most commonly occur when the user does not maintain three points of contact while climbing up or down.
The user must maintain at least both feet and one hand or both hands and one foot on the ladder at all times. Belts and other tools can be used to carry materials while climbing. Bracing one’s body (legs, hips, etc.) against the ladder can allow users to work with both hands while maintaining appropriate contact with the ladder.
Accidents also occur when users stand on the top cap or top step of the ladder, use damaged ladders or use the wrong ladder type for the job.
Are ladder-related incidents declining? Increasing?
Referring again to the 2020 Ladder Citation Survey, the number of ladder-related accidents in the workplace has decreased over the last four years, and approximately 97% of respondents indicated that the quantity of ladder-related accidents at their organization has either decreased or remained the same over the last five years. The same percentage use some form of ladder safety training for their employees.
In summary, the key to reducing ladder-related accidents is to educate and train end-users on proper selection, inspection, use and care of ladders. Organizations should provide safety training to new employees and annual and regular refresher training.
Have product evolution and design improvements helped reduce ladder accidents?
Ladders are covered by ANSI A14 Safety Standards. These standards are well established and provide design, testing, use and labeling criteria. ALI members have worked to create relevant ANSI standards and requirements for many new industry designs to ensure designs meet a high standard of safety and quality. For example, the ANSI A14.11 standard for step stools, the ANSI A14.8 standard for ladder accessories and telescoping ladder designs to ANSI A14.2 and A14.5 were added. Those are just a few examples of how requirements evolve to ensure safe practices. New ladder designs to fill specific applications or needs are added to the standards when appropriate.
What basic safety guidelines apply to ladders of all types?
- Choose the right ladder for the job and always inspect it before use.
- Maintain three points of contact.
- While working, don’t overreach or try to move the ladder while standing on it.
- Do not try to “walk” a ladder to move its position. Climb down, move the ladder and climb back up.
- Do not stand on the top cap or step, where balance can be easily lost.
How does ALI promote ladder safety?
ALI provides free, year-round online training on the proper use of stepladders, single and extension ladders, articulated ladders and mobile ladders. This training outlines safe ladder practices in all applications and can be used to supplement an organization's training and certification programs.
In March, National Ladder Safety Month, the ladder manufacturing community discusses best practices and promotes at-home and on-the-job safety training to raise awareness and decrease the number of ladder-related accidents.
Many ladder manufacturers also offer their own safety training programs for end-users on their websites.
Mobile elevating work platforms
The types of MEWPs used by electricians range from vertical masts, self-propelled telescoping booms and self-propelled scissor lifts, the latter of which is perhaps the most widely used because they have a platform to hold workers, tools and materials. The information below focuses on scissor lifts.
Michael Flanagan, product manager, and Scott Owyen, director of training, at Genie, Redmond, Wash., discussed equipment safety. Genie manufactures Terex MEWPs, including scissor lifts.
What are MEWPs' primary potential safety risks?
Owyen: While there are many hazards associated with the operation of MEWPs, individuals can mitigate those hazards through proper training and familiarization with the specific machine they are operating.
The operator must always perform a pre-operation inspection and function test on the MEWP before every shift to ensure it is working properly. MEWPs must only be elevated on firm, level surfaces, and the operator must always look in the direction of travel, whether driving, elevating or lowering the platform. Operators and occupants must always keep their feet planted firmly on the platform floor and should never sit, stand or climb on platform guardrails.
Flanagan: What safety systems must be installed on scissor lifts is standardized—load sense, emergency stop controls and auxiliary lowering methods. At the same time, actual methods of operation may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Additionally, different brands of scissor lifts may react differently to control inputs, which can present challenges to operators with multiple brands on the job site if the operator is not familiar with the differences.
What OSHA standards apply to MEWP equipment?
Owyen: OSHA 29 CFR 1926.21 requires that employers instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to their work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.
OSHA 29 CFR 1926.453 states that only authorized persons shall operate an aerial lift.
ANSI A92.20-2020 outlines the requirements for design and testing of MEWPs, ANSI A92.22-2020 outlines the requirements for safe use and ANSI A92.24-2018 outlines the requirements for training for MEWPs.
What are common accidents related to the indoor use of aerial products, and how can risks be minimized?
Owyen: Reported MEWP accidents include machine tip-overs, falls, collisions and electrocutions. Proper training and appropriate supervision help to avoid these situations.
Before moving the MEWP to a job, the operator must perform a detailed site risk assessment to identify the hazards and develop a plan to eliminate or mitigate them, which is essential to developing a safe use plan.
Machine tip-over may be caused by driving or elevating the machine on a slope that exceeds the machine’s maximum slope rating, driving the machine over a void in the floor that cannot support the machine’s forces or pushing or pulling on objects outside of the platform.
Falls may result from improper use, such as standing or climbing on the platform guardrails, exiting the machine without following established safety protocols, or being catapulted from the machine as a result of driving too fast, the machine being struck by another vehicle, or striking a structure.
Collisions may be the result of elevating, rotating or reversing the MEWP into an overhead obstruction or through unexpected movement.
Factors that may increase the risk of trapping and crushing injuries are insufficient training and familiarization, poor route planning, uneven terrain, poor visibility, distractions, objects placed on the control panel and overriding or disabling controls or safety devices.
Electrocution may be the result of failing to understand and adhere to the required clearance from power lines and other electrically charged devices. Operators must always know the voltage of all power sources in their work area and maintain the required clearance in accordance with the information in the operator's manual and on decals attached to the MEWP.
What MEWP operational and safety training is available?
Owyen: Some manufacturers, including Genie, offer high-quality operator training and train-the-trainer courses for MEWPs. Courses may be in classrooms or online.
Per ANSI A92 standards, dealers, owners and users must either be trained and familiarized, or ensure that personnel whom they authorized as operators, supervisors and occupants have been trained and familiarized, in accordance with A92-24-2018. In addition, users must designate a qualified person to regularly monitor, supervise and evaluate operators. The user is responsible for ensuring that operators are familiar with each specific model they are operating.
Additional ladder safety steps
Federal regulations allow the proper use of ladders by authorized and trained personnel, and when used according to manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations. However, many general contractors and construction managers often restrict the use of ladders on projects, Ladders provide a convenient and cost-effective method of gaining access to elevated work. When a worker maintains proper positioning, does not overload the ladder with additional tools and materials, and uses the right ladder for the job, ladder jobs can be safe and productive.
It is imperative that people performing electrical work use a nonconductive ladder. This is also required any time a ladder is used in close proximity to any overhead electrical lines. All trades should know that an aluminum ladder, one that is conductive with aluminum siderails and steps, should never be used when electricity could be present.
Safety information in this report is for information only and cannot be considered comprehensive guidelines for the use of ladders and MEWPs. Ladders and MEWPs must be used and operated in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and all applicable federal, state and local regulations.