The use of ladders is often a fundamental component of almost every job, whether you’re a construction worker fixing a roof leak or an Amazon warehouse worker needing to reach a boxed item in an upper rack in the shelves. There’s no denying that ladders afford workers rapid and easy access to difficult-to-reach heights.
Despite the portability and ubiquitousness, ladders may be harmful if not used correctly and kept in excellent operating order. Whether they regularly or sporadically use ladders, personnel need to be educated or instructed on safely utilizing these tools without exposing them to unnecessary hazards. It could save someone’s life or avoid debilitating injury that will render the worker unable to work permanently.
Speaking of injuries, unintentional injury fatalities due to falls are the second most significant cause of mortality globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Although the WHO data does not list what constitutes workplace injuries, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) informed that one in every five falls results in major bodily damage, such as a fractured bone or a concussion.
In the latest US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, “falls, slips and trips” continue to be a significant cause of “nonfatal work injuries.. involving days away from work” reported by private industry employers in 2019. It accounts for 27.5 percent of all incidents with 244,000 cases — the data also emphasized that “falls, trips, and slips” incurred the most considerable increase from 2018, meaning that fall protection and prevention strategies are still not being widely adopted in most industries.
Since many businesses include imminent fall hazards like stairs, ladders, scaffolding, unprotected floor openings, and other high work surfaces, they continue to appear at the forefront of the list for most serious breaches. Employers must examine their workplaces regularly to detect and eliminate fall hazards, rather than only once at the start of a project or process. OSHA organizes a nationwide campaign every year to increase engagement and facilitate fall prevention measures.
Designing the Structure of an OSHA-Compliant Ladder
Simply browsing through OSHA’s standard numbers can be a Brobdingnagian task as these do not evoke any sense of user/reader-friendly formatting. If you’re interested in going through the rabbit hole of guidelines, the OSHA General Industry Standard Number 1910.23 – Ladders, and here’s the OSHA Guide for the Construction Industry Standard Number 1926.1953 – Ladders. Note that there are different guidelines for Wooden Ladders and those that involve Electric Power and Transmission.
- Portable step ladders with a length of more than 20 feet are prohibited.
- Step ladders must include a metal spreader or locking device that is large enough and strong enough to keep the front firmly and rear portions open.
- The usage of single ladders longer than 30 feet is prohibited.
- The use of extension ladders greater than 60 feet is prohibited.
- Managers and supervisors must ensure that ladders are in good working order at all times.
- Regular inspections for ladders are mandatory, and those that have acquired flaws must be removed from service and labeled or posted as “Dangerous, Do Not Use.”
Note that portable ladders are classified into three types: Stepladders, Single Ladders, and Extension Ladders.
The following are the basic safety procedures that OSHA maintains while using a ladder:
- Ladders must be positioned on a firm, level surface wherever feasible or appropriately secured at the top, middle, and bottom to prevent slippage.
- As a safety precaution, ladders used to obtain accessibility to the roof or other location must reach at least three feet over the top.
- A ladder’s foot must have a lateral length of 1/4 of the ladder’s working span from the top support to the foot—four times the structure’s height from the ground to the uppermost foundation.
- At sixteen (16) feet above the ground, the ladder’s bottom should be four (4) feet away from the facility surface.
- The ladder’s base should be at least one foot apart from the wall for every four feet of height to where the ladder rests against the structure. The 4 to 1 rule is what it’s called. It is necessary to have an extension or straight ladder long enough to reach at least 3 feet above the point of assistance.
- When ascending or descending a ladder, the worker must always face the ladder.
- Splicing short ladders together to construct longer ladders is not permitted.
- Ladders must never replace scaffolds or work platforms in the horizontal position.
- Using the standard ladder’s top as a foothold or a step is not recommended.
- When ascending or going down ladders, workers must use both hands.
- Workers must keep electrical parts and components attached to a building away from metal ladders, including aluminum ladders.
Aside from ladder height restrictions, household, commercial, and industrial ladders must be appropriately labeled for duty ratings. Below are the OSHA Duty Ratings for the expected load capacity for ladders:
|IAA||Special Duty||Rugged||170 kgs (375 lbs)|
|IA||Extra Duty||Industrial||136 kgs (300 lbs)|
|I||Heavy Duty||Industrial||113 kgs (250 lbs)|
|II||Medium Duty||Commercial||102 kgs (225 lbs)|
|III||Light Duty||Household||80 kgs (200 lbs)|
Always Remember the 3 Points of Contact
Before using any ladder, remember that this tool can develop issues that make it dangerous to use. Before each use:
- Examine the ladder for loose or broken rungs, steps, rails, or bracing.
- Check for any loose screws, bolts, hinges, or other hardware as well. If there is any form of issue with the ladder, it must be fixed or replaced.
- Always avoid using a faulty ladder.
- Lock or close any neighboring ingress or egress points within the ladder. The space surrounding the ladder base should be kept clear of debris or encumbrance.
When climbing up or down a ladder, a worker must always follow the “three points of contact” rule (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand). The three contact points must be applied if you’re getting on and off heavy equipment, ladders, or other work platform surfaces. This method ensures stability with the center of gravity amid a three-pointed triangle. The “three points of contact” rule can help workers stay safe and avoid injuries.
When adopting the “three points of touch” guideline, keep the following in mind:
- Wipe your hands and clean extra dust, dirt, or snow from your boots for a tighter grip.
- When entering or exiting, position yourself facing the front of the vehicle, platform, or ladder.
- When ascending a platform, use the guardrails or handrails.
- Allow your hands to be free. Place tools or supplies in a tool belt or use a hoist line for heavier goods if you need to haul them up with you. If you’re descending from a vehicle, place the tool or other object on the ground and then pick it up.
- Do not use a tire as a stepladder; instead, access the truck in the manner recommended by the manufacturer. And don’t attempt to pull yourself up using the steering wheel.
- Don’t let go of the machine and land on the ground. Even if you don’t slip or fall, the impact on your joints will be unpleasant.
- Entering a moving rolling ladder or machinery is not a good idea.
- Before dismounting, look for any impediments, debris, or fluids on the ground.
- Wearing loose clothing or hanging jewelry that might snag on something is not a good idea.
Three points of contact appear to be a simple theory, and you’re probably already doing it the majority of the time. However, it’s that one occasion when you don’t that might get your workers into falling accidents.
It’s no secret that ladders come in handy when completing a job efficiently, whether you’re in a construction, manufacturing, or industrial facility. But with many private commercial and industrial establishments incurring fall-related accidents, strategies to prevent fall accidents and eliminate imminent fall hazards must always be intact. As an employer of any size, you can’t afford to ignore the OSHA hierarchy of controls that prioritize prevention first before protection. Ensure your workers are safe from injury or worse by eliminating hazards and using fall protection measures while using the right ladder for the task at hand – one that fits their height and weight requirements while also providing the right personal protective gear if needed. If you need help assessing which type of ladder would best suit your needs or have other questions about our safety equipment, please get in touch with our experts!