Ladder Safety Precautions

Warning Ladder Safety Sign

Fall prevention at construction worksites should receive a lot of attention, as 279 out of 806 fatalities at construction sites in 2012 were the result of falls. That is a significant number of preventable accidents. While falls from large heights are dangerous and do cause fatal injuries, training employees in the appropriate use of ladders can also help avoid many accidents. Workers may already consider themselves experts in the use of ladders and think they don’t need training, but it is still important to cover the basics of ladder safety and enforce best practices on a daily basis in the workplace.

ladder safety, construction
Image: OSHA

OSHA explains that before anyone uses a ladder to perform a task, he or she should consider four questions:

  • Will I have to hold heavy items while on the ladder?
  • Is the elevated area high enough that it would require a long ladder that can be unstable?
  • Will I be working from this height for a long time?
  • Do I have to stand on the ladder sideways in order to do this work?

When the answer to any of these questions is yes, a ladder might not be the best option for getting the job done. Needing to hold heavy items while on a ladder, for example, could cause an employee to be unbalanced or grow tired. When either of those things happens above the ground, the situation can be dangerous.

Say an employee does need to use a ladder, though. What does he or she need to know?

Understanding Ladder Basics

Two main types of ladders are available for use at construction sites: self-supporting ladders and non-self-supporting ladders. The first is the kind that folds out, while the second leans against a wall or other structure.

It’s important to select the correct type of ladder for the job. It’s also important to choose a ladder of an appropriate height. The right ladder is the one that will allow you to reach the work area without having to stand on the top rung, as that rung is only for structural purposes, not for standing on.

When in use, a ladder must be placed on stable ground and secured at the base. In some cases, a coworker should stand at the bottom to spot the ladder user and to keep others away from the area. Before climbing the ladder, the user should inspect the ladder for damage and make sure the ladder is fully extended and secured. If a foldout ladder is being used, the metal spreader should be locked to secure the ladder.

If a non-self-supporting ladder is being used, it must be placed at a safe angle so the ladder won’t fall. According to OSHA, a safe angle is achieved when “the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is about ¼ the working length of the ladder.” The National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) created a smartphone app that can be used to calculate appropriate ladder angles.

The person using the ladder should wear footwear that is flat on the bottom and won’t easily slip. He or she should also be touching the ladder in three places at all times (two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand). This means users shouldn’t carry anything up the ladder with them.

Finally, OSHA says when the worker is performing the required task, he should try to keep his weight centered to prevent a fall and to prevent the ladder from slipping.

Ladder Maintenance and Training

Perhaps it goes without saying, but ladders should be checked for problems regularly. Bent ladders, ladders with missing rungs, ladders with broken locking mechanisms and any other ladders that seem structurally unsound should be replaced or serviced before use.

Employees should be trained in what kind of issues a ladder might have so they can recognize them before starting a job. Supervisors at the worksite should check to make sure all basic ladder safety rules are followed. For more information about ladder safety and fall protection, visit OSHA’s Fall Prevention Campaign or take a look at the SlideShare below.

Additional Resources