Portable Ladder Safety Protocols to Safely Work at Heights
We use ladders all the time—at our homes, in our offices, in stores, in warehouses, on roads, on pathways, for repair work, and the list goes on. Ladders are so integral in our everyday lives that we do not give them much thought. However, ladder safety should be equally integrated within our lives as the use of ladders. The mantra of ‘ladder safety becomes even more important when used for occupational tasks. Workers who use ladders on construction sites, in confined spaces, on scaffolding, and to complete various other industrial occupational job tasks must be made aware of the safe use of ladders.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recognizes the importance of ladder safety. For the 2019 fiscal year, OSHA recognized violations against its 1926.1053 standard that covers general requirements for all ladders in the construction industry within its top 10 cited violations, while violations of fall protection topped the list (OSHA, n.d.a). Furthermore, according to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics annually, more than 310 construction workers are killed and more than 10,350 are fatally injured by falls from heights (CDC-NIOSH, 2019). It is, therefore, imperative that employers provide employees with adequate training on the safe use of ladders and adhere to the OSHA ladder safety and fall protection standards when expecting employees to utilize ladders in the workplace to protect them from falls, electrocutions, and other ladder-related hazards.
Choosing the Right Ladder
Ladders come in all shapes, materials, and sizes. There are four main types of portable ladders used for different purposes and situations. They are the step ladder, the straight ladder, the combination ladder, and the extension ladder (OSHA, n.d.b). These ladders are made of various materials—aluminum, fiberglass, wood, and steel—with their distinct strengths and weaknesses. Hence choosing the right type of ladders is equally important as choosing a ladder manufactured from the right material to increase safety when using ladders.
But more important is knowing and applying ladder safety practices in the workplace, especially construction sites, as this is the most important aspect that will reduce the hazard of falls in the workplace, thereby increasing worker occupational health the safety and reduce fatalities from falls.
Best Practices to Adopt for Ladder Safety
A cardinal rule for ladder safety is to use the right type of ladder for the job being done. Another important point workers must concede to ensure their safety is to not use ladders if they are unwell and feel dizzy and tired. Workers with underlying illnesses such as vertigo must also not use ladders. Let us also not forget that workers should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) including shoes with slip-resistant soles and gloves with a good grip. Workers must also wear fall arrest systems when using ladders on scaffolding and above certain heights as recommended by OSHA’s fall protection and scaffolding standards. Employees must also read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidance on the proper use and care of ladders.
Here are some of OSHA's recommended portable ladder safety practices to make sure employees are safeguarded in the workplace from falling from heights when using a ladder.
- Use the right type of ladder for the job being done.
- Do not climb to the top-most rung/step of the ladder unless it was designed for that purpose.
- Make sure not to stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single, or extension ladder.
- When climbing a ladder, a worker should keep his body in the middle of the rung.
- Make sure the ladder rungs, steps, or feet are not covered with any slippery material.
- Workers must always face the ladder when climbing it.
- When climbing a ladder, workers must always have either two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand in direct contact with the ladder’s rungs.
- Have a competent person visually inspect ladders before use to ensure there are no damages.
- Do not use ladders where the rungs or side rails are covered in paint or stickers as this would conceal any damages on rungs or holds. Safety information-related stickers are allowed.
- Immediately remove from service any damaged ladders including:
- Ladders with missing rungs;
- Ladders with loose or missing parts;
- Ladders with side rails bent or fractures; or
- Ladders that sway or lean to the side.
- When placing a ladder to reach a higher level work area, check that there are no overhead power lines, especially if using metal ladders.
- Do not place ladders close to power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.
- When using extension ladders, make sure all the locks are properly tightened at extension points before use.
- Make sure ladders are placed so that they are not accidentally displaced by other work activities.
- If ladders are placed close to other work activities or where other workers frequently move about then ladders must be secured to prevent displacement or a barricade erected.
- Ladders should be placed only on a stable and level surface unless it has been secured either at the top or bottom to prevent displacement.
- Do not place ladders on movable objects such as barrels and boxes to increase height. In this case, use a ladder that is long enough to safely reach the higher work area.
- Do not use a self-supporting ladder; such as a step ladder; in a partially closed position or as a single ladder.
- Ladders should be placed on a solid non-movable surface.
- Ladders should not be moved while a worker or equipment is on the ladder.
- Make sure the base of the ladder is positioned at an angle that is a quarter of the working length of the ladder when placing the ladder against a wall or other solid vertical surface (see image).
- If using an extension or straight ladder to access an elevated surface, the ladder must extend at least 3 feet above the point of support (see image).
- Ladders and ladder accessories such as ladder levelers, hooks, or jacks should only be used for their designed purposes.
- Never overload ladders. Know the ladder’s load rating and the weight it can support including both people and tools.
- Do not exceed the maximum load rating of a ladder.
- If using ladders in open areas or on scaffolding, do not use them during storms or strong wind conditions.
In addition to the above OSHA recommendations, here are a few ladder safety suggestions by the American Ladder Institute.
- People climbing ladders should wear clean slip-resistant shoes.
- Ladders should be used only by one person at a time unless the ladder is specifically designed for more than one climber, such as a trestle ladder.
- Ladders must not be placed in front of closed doors that can open toward the ladder. If ladders are placed in front of doors that can open toward the ladder then the door must be blocked open, locked, or guarded.
OSHA’s standards for the construction industry and general industry provide more specific guidelines for the use of ladders. Read the information on ladder safety to ensure occupational safety and health.
- Here is the link to OSHA’s Construction Standard 1053 Subpart X: Stairways and Ladders
- Here is the link to OSHA’s General Industry Standard 23 Subpart D: Walking-working Surfaces
Additional Guidance by OSHA for Ladder Safety
OSHA has several pieces of literature on ladder safety. Below are some publications, facts sheets, and related links that will provide more details to better understand ladder safety needs.
- OSHA Publications - Falling Off Ladders Can Kill: Use Them Safely
- OSHA Fact Sheet - Reducing Falls in Construction: Safe Use of Extension Ladders
- OSHA Fact Sheet - Reducing Falls in Construction: Safe Use of Stepladders
- OSHA Fact Sheet - Reducing Falls in Construction: Safe Use of Job-made Wooden Ladders
Employees who work at heights must understand not only ladder safety but the many safety procedures and requirements pertaining to fall protection. They can enroll in our the OSHA Competent Person for Fall Protection online training course today!.
- CDC, NIOSH. (2019 November). Prevent Construction Falls from Roofs, Ladders, and Scaffolds. Publication No. 2019-128. Website. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2019-128/pdfs/2019-128Revised112019.pdf?id=10.26616/NIOSHPUB2019128revised112019
- OSHA (n.d.a). Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for the Fiscal Year 2019 (Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019). Website. https://www.osha.gov/top10citedstandards
OSHA (n.d.b). Portable Ladder Safety. Website. https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/portable_ladder_qc.pdf