Ladder Safety

The Events:

If an employee needs to use a ladder, it is important that they understand the dangers associated with it. Not only are ladders awkward, potentially unstable and ergonomically compromising but, they are also a means to death or permanent disability.

Although ladder use is relatively infrequent in customer organizations, in the last year, two of our customers experienced ladder falls where the employee will almost certainly never return to their job.

Those were not the only ladder-related incidents– employees were injured on a ladder when it shifted, getting off ladders, carrying ladders and even walking by ladders. One fall was from a 3’ ladder, and some happened while using a chair or a table as a ladder.

The Lessons:

Any work above grade level increases the risk of injury – the greater the elevation the greater the danger. OSHA requires elevated work stations to have appropriate fall restraints such as handrails with toe and intermediate rails, but there is no required fall prevention for temporary ladders (though permanent ladders are required to be caged or used with fall-prevention gear if over 24’ tall).

There are, however, several OSHA requirements that are focused on ensuring employee safety while using temporary ladders:

  • Set a straight ladder at a 75o angle (1:4 horizontal-to-vertical ratio) to the object being scaled
  • Secure the ladder from moving or falling by doing at least one of the following – a combination of the first two is best
    • Place or secure the feet in such a way that they cannot move or slip
    • Anchor or tie-off the top so that it cannot move or shift
    • Have someone hold the ladder so it cannot move (allowed by code but not recommended)
  • When accessing a roof or other elevated level, the top of the ladder must extend 3’ beyond the point of support (roof edge, gutter, parapet, etc.)
  • Always face a ladder when ascending or descending
  • Never stand on the top step of a step ladder – even of the short ones

Best practices to follow:

  • When storing a portable ladder, keep it away from direct sun, moisture and heat.
  • Ladder use should be limited to authorized individuals who have been trained in acquisition, handling and use; they must be in good physical condition with no history of or propensity for falls or dizziness
  • Always use a ladder for above-grade access or work – never use a substitute (e.g., chair, box, etc.)
  • Get help moving an awkward or heavy ladder – e.g., any over 8’ tall or 50 pounds in weight
  • When ascending or descending, keep one hand and one foot on the rungs at all times – this will affect what, how and how much you can carry as well as how quickly you can climb
  • Keep your body and any material you carry as close to the ladder as possible – remember that the least efficient and most dangerous way of moving material between two levels is carrying it on a ladder
  • When working from a ladder, keep your body centered on the ladder – do not lean or overreach
  • Always use every rung of the ladder when descending – never skip rungs or jump off a ladder

When you need a ladder, you need a ladder – but please use it safely. See also, our Ladder Safety fact sheet.