Most people in the construction industry know that falls are the most common job-site injury. What you might not know, however, is that 50% of these falls are related to ladders and can be prevented by using the right ladder in the right way.
Bill Blanks, Senior Risk Management Consultant for Builders Mutual Insurance Company, joins us as an industry expert on ladder safety to share his thoughts and best practices.
Ladder safety (including proper ladder selection, inspection, use, and storage) should always be incorporated into new-hire training—and reinforced to veteran team members as well. By sharing these important tips, you can help your workers prevent ladder accidents.
Before beginning any job, scope out the environment and ensure that you and your workers have selected the correct ladder or ladders for the work that will be done the job-site.
Look around the work area where the ladder will be used. If there is high foot or mobile traffic, make sure the area around the ladder is taped, coned-off, or barricaded. This will help prevent other contractors, visitors, and co-workers from walking underneath the ladder and will let mobile operators know to stay a comfortable distance from where the ladder is set up. If your team needs to set up a ladder in front of a doorway, make sure to the door is locked or blocked. This prevents doors from being opened and potentially hitting workers who are working off the ladder.
If ladders are being used outdoors, inspect for soft or unstable footing that could destabilize a ladder. Ladders should be set on a solid, firm foundation. Don’t just look at the foundation. Look up for overhead power lines before handling or climbing a ladder and make sure you are a safe distance of at least 10 feet from power lines.
Ladder selection is the first step to preventing fall injuries on the job-site. Be sure you and your workers know the safety risks associated with using the wrong ladder.
Be sure to ask the right questions when choosing a ladder:
- Do I need a step or extension ladder? Stepladders are self-supporting, extension ladders are leaning.
- How tall should my ladder be? Whether the job is 6, 8, 10, 20, 24 feet, etc., overhead, choose the correct size of ladder for the work height.
- Should the ladder be fiberglass or aluminum? Don’t use aluminum around electricity.
- How much weight will the ladder support? Be sure to check the ladder duty rating to make sure it will support climber, tools, and materials.
Just like any other piece of equipment, ladders must be inspected prior to each use.
Inspect the following:
- Rungs, steps, and top cap – must be free of cracks or defects.
- Rails and base – look for stress cracks and discoloration from UV rays, which could cause railings to become brittle.
- Warning labels – should be legible; contact the manufacturer to order new labels if the ladder is still in good condition.
- Foot or feet – make sure the anti-slip foot pad on the bottom is in good condition and the foot assembly is not bent or loose.
- Spreaders and rung locks – should not be bent, cracked, or loose, and should still operate smoothly.
- Condition – keep ladders clean and free of slippery materials by powerwashing.
If a ladder is damaged, do not try to repair it on the job-site. It’s tempting to repair the ladder, but many falls and injuries stem from workers attempting to fix ladders with duct tape or other inappropriate means of repair. Tag it “Do Not Use” and find another ladder that is in good working condition.
After the work environment overview and ladder selection and inspection are complete, work can begin. Be sure to remain mindful of personal safety practices.
- Read and follow manufacturer’s instructions and labels.
- Set the ladder on a level foundation with a solid footing.
- Make sure the spreader is locked in place; do not lean a stepladder against a wall.
- Position the ladder near your work area to help you avoid overreaching.
- Carry tools in a shoulder or waist belt; never carry tools or materials in your hands while climbing or descending a ladder.
- Check your shoes and boots to make sure they are free of mud or slippery material.
- Maintain a 3-point contact (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) when climbing and descending a ladder.
- Always face the ladder while climbing or descending.
These additional guidelines apply for extension ladders:
- Look for overhead power lines and ensure you have at least 10 feet of clearance overhead.
- Place the ladder one foot away from the surface it’s resting on for every 4 feet of ladder height (4:1 angle). Example: 12-foot ladder = 3 feet from wall; 20-foot ladder = 5 feet from wall
- Extend the top of the ladder at least 3 feet above the landing.
- Secure the ladder at the top to make sure it will not shift while climbing on to or off the landing. Ask a teammate to hold the ladder at the bottom while you secure or unsecure the ladder at the top.
- Barricade the area at the bottom to keep foot or mobile traffic away.
The job isn’t done when a worker returns to the ground. Proper storage is essential. Ladders should be secured on a ladder rack or in the back of the truck. Once your team arrives back at the office or shop, store ladders indoors to prevent weather damage, rusting, and warping from rain or UV rays. Proper inspection and storage of ladders will help lengthen the life of the ladders and keep them in good working order.
Remembering these steps while using ladders can help prevent one of the most common job-site injuries. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, provides a free ladder safety app as an easy-to-use resource that the job-site team can reference on the spot. This ladder safety infographic is another great resource to use during and after training for a basic understanding of ladder safety.