Ladder safety

By: Mike Huss
Risk Solutions Consultant

Most of us have worked on or around ladders at some time in our lives, either at work, at home or both. Ladders are involved in many accidents, some of which are fatal. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that more than 90,000 people receive emergency room treatment for ladder accidents each year. It is beneficial to know how to inspect, use, and care for this tool. The following tips are intended to make your use of ladders less hazardous:

Inspect it
Before using a ladder, inspect it for faults such as; cracked, bent or broken rungs or rails, loose nails, bolts or screws, or corrosion of metal parts. If it is an extension ladder inspect the pulleys, ropes, and locks for excessive wear. Also check the footings and pads to make sure they still provide a non-skid surface. If any defect is found, don’t use it. It should be tagged and properly repaired or immediately destroyed.  

Choose the right equipment
Use the right ladder for the job, e.g., ensure the ladder is high enough for you to reach your work area without having to stand on the top rung. When using ladders to access another level, secure and extend the ladder at least three feet above the landing point to provide a safe handhold.

Setting it up – 4:1 rule

When setting up a ladder, make sure the ground is level and stable. Do not set the ladder on a muddy surface, which may cause it to slip. Do not use bricks or other material to raise the height of the ladder. If the working surface is not level, use an extension ladder that has adjustable feet. When using extension ladders, abide by the 4:1 rule. Place the base of the ladder out away from the wall or edge of the upper level about one (1) foot for every four (4) feet of vertical height (e.g., if using a 12’ ladder the base should be three feet from the structure). Some ladders provide a picture guide on the ladder to help you with this ratio. When using a stepladder, make sure the folding cross braces are fully folded out and locked into place before use.

Use the ladder correctly - 3-point rule
Always face the ladder when ascending or descending, and have both hands free to grasp it securely. If you need tools, they should be carried in a tool belt or pulled up with a rope. Don’t use a folded stepladder as a straight ladder. Don’t use ladders as a platform, runway, or scaffold. Don't set up ladders in areas such as doorways or walkways unless they are protected by barriers. Keep the top and base of the ladder clear. Don't create an obstruction by running hoses, extension cords, or ropes on the ladder. Remember to use the “3-point rule” when climbing a ladder (keep two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand in contact with the ladder at all times).

Stay centered - don’t over climb the ladder
Don’t lean out to the side when you are on a ladder. Keep your body between the vertical side rails. This reduces the chance of tipping the ladder, or falling off of it. If something is out of reach, get down and move the ladder. Do not climb higher than the third rung from the top on straight or extension ladders or higher than the second tread from the top on stepladders. Most ladders are designed to hold only one person at a time. Two may cause the ladder to fail or throw it off balance.

Check, maintain, and store ladders well
Before using a ladder, check it carefully to ensure there are no visible defects and that it is in good working condition. Check, maintain, and store the ladder according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission, Occupational Safety & Health Administration
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