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Each year, about 50 construction workers are killed by falls from ladders. More than half of the deaths occur to people working from ladders. Twice as many falls occur stepping down compared to going up ladders. The main cause of falls from straight and extension ladders is sliding of the ladder base. For self supported ladders or stepladders, the main cause is tipping sideways. A lot of workers carrying ladders hurt their backs, too.


Protect Yourself

• Choose the right equipment. Use ladders mainly for climbing to or from other levels. If you can – instead of using ladders to work from – use scaffolds or scissor lifts; they are safer to work from.

• Choose the right ladder length.

• A sticker on a commercial ladder tells you its maximum weight capacity. Use only type ladders, which can support 250,300, and 375 pounds, respectively. Job-made portable ladders must be tested for strength; a regular ladder must be able to hold at least 4 times its maximum weight capacity.

• Ladder rungs, cleats, and steps must be parallel, level, and evenly spaced (10 to 14 inches for most ladders). The rungs and steps of metal ladders must be grooved or roughened to minimize slipping. Side rails must be at least 11.5 inches apart.

• Do not tie ladders together.

• If you use two or more ladders to reach one spot, they must have a platform or landing between them.

• Ladder parts must be smooth to prevent punctures or cuts or snagging of clothing.

• Wood ladders must not be painted with a coating that can hide defects.

• Employees must be trained in ladder use. A competent person must train employees in site-specific ladder safety

Setting up a Ladder

• Use 2 people to carry and set up a ladder, if possible.

• Keep all types of ladders (and tools) at least 10 feet away from live overhead power lines and other overhead obstructions. Aluminum and even wet or dirty wood or fiberglass ladders can conduct electricity.

• Set a ladder on firm, level ground. Use ladder levelers on uneven ground. Secure the ladder – tie it down, use slip-resistant feet, or have someone hold it in place. (A ladder on a slippery surface must be tied in place or held.)

• Keep the area around the top and bottom of a ladder clear. In passageways, doorways, or where traffic or other activities can occur, secure the ladder or block off the area.

• Do not set a ladder on a scaffold, box, or other object.

• Stepladders: All four legs must be on solid, level ground. The spreaders must be locked fully open. Never climb on the cross-bracing. Never lean a stepladder against a wall.

• Straight and extension ladders: The ladder base should be 1 foot from the building (or top support, such as an eave) for every 4 feet of ladder length up to the resting position. Counting rungs will give you a good estimate of the ladder length; rungs are about 1 foot apart.

• After you set up an extension ladder, lock the top section in place. Extension ladder sections must overlap – by at least 3 feet for ladders up to 32 feet, by 4 feet for ladders 32 feet to 48 feet, and by 5 feet for ladders 48 feet to 60 feet.

• Both rails must rest evenly on the resting spot, unless the ladder has a single-support attachment.

• When a ladder is used to get on or off a roof, secure the ladder by tying. The side rails should be at least 3 feet above the roof to be safe. Job-made ladders should let you get on or off a ladder by stepping between the rails. If you have to step around a ladder because of rungs, there should be a grab rail attached to the building to help you. (OSHA requires the grab rail and tie-off if a ladder doesn’t extend at least 3 feet above the roof.) If there is a high parapet wall, use a stairway or some other way to get on or off the parapet.

Using a Ladder

• Always check a ladder before you use it; recheck it if it has been unattended.

• Always face a ladder when using it.

• Wear shoes with slip-resistant soles.

• Always have a 3-point contact (such as, one hand and two feet).

• Keep your body centered between the side rails of the ladder – so you don’t tip over the ladder.

• Never work from the top or top step of a stepladder, or from any of the top 3 steps of a straight or extension ladder.

• If you must work from an extension ladder, consider using a fall protection system attached to a secure anchor point on the building, especially if pushing, pulling, or prying. (The fall protection should be designed by a qualified person.) And keep both feet on the same rung.

• Do not hold objects in your hand when moving up or down or stepping on/off a ladder to an upper level. Attach objects to your tool belt or pull them up on a line after you get to your work spot.

• Do not use a ladder when it is windy.

• Never move a ladder while someone is on it.

• Lower the top section of an extension ladder before you move it.

Inspecting a Ladder

A ladder must be inspected regularly for visible defects by a competent person and after any incident that could affect its safe use. Check your ladder for damage before each use.

If a ladder is damaged, label it, Do not use, and take it away until it is fixed. Destroy it if it can’t be fixed.

Here is a checklist for inspecting ladders:

• Make sure the feet work and are not broken – and slip-resistant pads on the feet are secure.

• Inspect ladder parts for cracks, bends, splits, or corrosion.

• Check all rung and step connections.

• Make sure rung locks and spreader braces are working.

• On extension ladders, make sure the rope and pulley work and the rope is not frayed.

• All bolts and rivets should be secure.

• All rung locks and other movable parts should be oiled or greased.

• Make sure the steps, rungs and other ladder parts are free of oil, grease, and other materials.

Safety Tips To Prevent Ladder Injuries

  • Make sure the weight your ladder is supporting does not exceed its maximum load rating (user plus materials). There should only be one person on the ladder at one time.
  • Use a ladder that is the proper length for the job. Proper length is a minimum of 3 feet extending over the roofline or working surface. The three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder should not be stood on.
  • Straight, single or extension ladders should be set up at about a 75-degree angle.
  • All metal ladders should have slip-resistant feet.
  • Metal ladders will conduct electricity. Use a wooden or fiberglass ladder in the vicinity of power lines or electrical equipment. Do not let a ladder made from any material contact live electric wires.
  • Be sure all locks on extension ladders are properly engaged.
  • The ground under the ladder should be level and firm. Large flat wooden boards braced under the ladder can level a ladder on uneven ground or soft ground. A good practice is to have a helper hold the bottom of the ladder.
  • Do not place a ladder in front of a door that is not locked, blocked or guarded.
  • Keep your body centered between the rails of the ladder at all times. Do not lean too far to the side while working.
  • Do not use a ladder for any purpose other than that for which it was intended.
  • Do not step on the top step, bucket shelf or attempt to climb or stand on the rear section of a stepladder.
  • Never leave a raised ladder unattended.
  • Follow use instruction labels on ladders.

Ladders are indispensable tools. Assure that employees are trained and can inspect, select and use ladders properly.  Assure that ladders are inspected before use.  Portable and fixed ladders with structural defects such as broken or missing rungs, cleats or steps, broken or split rails, or corroded components must be withdrawn from service by immediately tagging "DO NOT USE" or marking in a manner that identifies them as defective.  Damaged fixed ladders should be blocked (such as with plywood attachments that spans several rungs).  Repairs must restore the ladder to its original design criteria.

Portable Ladder Use

Match tasks to the appropriate ladder.

Protect the base of the ladder if vehicles, pedestrians, or an unlocked, unguarded door could strike it.

Face the ladder at all times, and maintain three points of contact.

Raise and lower heavy, awkward loads or tools using a hand line or hoist-don't attempt to carry them up the ladder.

Portable ladders must be placed on a substantial base and have clear access at top and bottom.  Do not use wood planks, stones or other unstable materials to level the base of a ladder.

Place the base of extension ladders one foot out for every four foot of height to the wall or top support.

Portable ladders used for access to an upper landing surface must extend a minimum of 3 feet above the landing surface, or where not practical, be provided with grab rails and be secured against movement while in use.

Ladders must have nonconductive siderails if they are used where the worker or the ladder could contact energized electrical conductors or equipment.  Conductive ladders must be marked "WARNING - Do Not Use Around Energized Electrical Equipment."

Keep the load on the ladder below its rated capacity.

Don't paint ladders-this will conceal defects.

Don't reach out over the side rails, lean, or turn excessively on a ladder.  Reposition the ladder if you can't reach the work.

Don't stand or sit on the top two steps of a stepladder.

Don't use a non-self-supporting ladder without first opening it up and securing the metal spreader or locking device.

Store ladders in well ventilated areas away from moisture or excessive heat.  Store straight or extension ladders in flat racks or wall brackets, making sure they don't sag.  Store stepladders vertically in a closed position, and secure them so they won't tip over.

Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Job-made ladders must be constructed for their intended use.  Cleats must be uniformly spaced not less than 10 inches apart, nor more than 14 inches apart, along the handrails.

Ladders must not be used on slippery surfaces unless secured or provided with slip-resistant feet to prevent accidental movement.  Slip-resistant feet must not be used as a substitute for the care in placing, lashing, or holding a ladder upon a slippery surface.

Fall protection may be required on fixed ladders and some portable ladders.