Step ladders and extension ladders are commonly used in various industries and households. Based on the operation, ladders may be the safest means of completing a task. Just because ladders are commonly utilized and seem second nature does not mean that hazards are not ever present. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set standards and regulations for the safe use of ladders to prevent injuries and fatalities. Instead of diving into those riveting standards, this article will focus on three major points that, if followed, will allow anyone to perform operations in a safe manner. These points include pre-planning of operations, the set-up of the ladder, and safe usage of the ladder.
Before a ladder is even brought into the picture, take a minute to assess the work area in question. During this initial assessment, note any hazards that are present in regard to the ground conditions. Ensure the area of set up is free from obstructions or unstable/unclear ground conditions. The next issue to tackle is deciding which ladder style will provide the best opportunity for safe working conditions. Typical styles of ladders include step ladders, extension ladders, and platform ladders. Based on the operations, upper landings may need to be accessed during operations. Any time access/egress is required to a different level, only extension ladders should be utilized. Refrain from utilizing step ladders in a leaned positioned to access upper landings. This may result in shifting/slipping of the ladder, which ultimately can cause a fall injury. Speaking of step ladders, it is important to know the height of the area as this will dictate the size of ladder needed. One of the biggest issues with step ladders is having one present, but the only way to reach the area in question is by standing on the top rung or portion of this ladder style. By keeping your workers up to date on ladder safety and having them review the manufacture’s recommendations, prior to operations, will allow operations to commence in a proper manner. Pre-planning does not stop here though, daily pre-inspections of the ladder and work area should occur still.
After reviewing the area in question, selecting the proper ladder style and size, and reviewing the manufacture’s recommendations, the set-up stage may commence. During the set-up stage, ensure the ladder is positioned in a manner to not obstruct pathways or be exposed to potential contact from foot traffic or equipment. A common rule “4 to 1” is followed for extension ladders. This simply means to position the ladder one foot away from the building for every four feet vertical. This will prevent unsafe ascending or descending of the ladder. Based on the ground conditions, utilize slip resistant pads or spiked portion of the feet on extension ladders to secure the base. To prevent tipping/shifting at any time, the top portion should be secured to the building as well. For interior operations, typically step ladders are the most commonly utilized. Never lean a step ladder against a wall, as this can result in shifting/slipping. Step ladders must be fully opened with all four legs contacting the ground. Also, the safety latch that spans between the two side rails must be engaged. Following these reminders will provide adequate stability for this style of ladder.
Now that pre-planning has occurred and the selected ladder style is set up, work activities may begin. No matter the style of ladder, always face towards the ladder and keep three points of contact when ascending or descending. When performing work on ladders, face your work area and ensure it is within your range of motion. Repositioning may be needed to prevent reaching outside of the base of the ladder, which can lead to tip overs. Never utilize damaged/defective ladders, but instead report or replace them immediately. Avoid paint or other agents making contact with the ladder, as material/chemicals may reduce the structural integrity of the ladder over time, which can result in failure that may lead to an injury. Review these major points prior to any ladder operation. If at any time things seem unsafe or movement occurs in the ladders position, stop work and reassess the area. Ladders can give access to new heights but can also add new hazards.