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Portable Ladder Safety

Ladders are used in nearly all workplaces to access areas beyond an employee's normal reach. Ladders are very handy, but they can also be very dangerous if overloaded, misused or damaged. Falls from ladders can cause injuries ranging from sprains to death—properly select, use, and maintain ladders to prevent such injuries.

Ladder Selection

Style—The first thing to consider when choosing a ladder is the desired style for the task at hand. In addition to basic step and extension ladders, there are many specialty ladders—including platform, two-in-one (folding stepladders) and telescoping multi-purpose ladders. If you are working near electricity, a fiberglass ladder should always be selected and you should follow minimum clearance distances.

Height—Extension ladders should have a working height at least 6 feet longer than the highest contact point, such as a wall or roof line. The extra length is necessary for proper setup and overlap of sections.

Stepladder height should be based on the general rule that a person's maximum safe reaching height is approximately 4 inches higher than the height of the ladder. The highest permitted standing level on a stepladder is two steps down from the top. A person standing higher may lose their balance and fall.

Duty Rating—Ladders are rated according to the maximum weight they can safely support. The five rating classes are shown in the table below. Keep in mind that these ratings are for the combined weight of the user and any materials carried.

Type 1AA375 lbs.Extra-heavy-duty industrial ladder
Type 1A300 lbs.Heavy-duty industrial ladder
Type 1250 lbs.Heavy-duty industrial ladder
Type 2225 lbs.Medium-duty commercial ladder
Type 3200 lbs.Light-duty household ladder

Portable Stepladders

Stepladders are the most popular style of ladder for most low- to medium-height tasks, although industrial stepladders can be as tall as 20 feet.

  • Stepladders should be fully opened, and spreaders locked before climbing
  • Stepladders should never be used as a straight ladder or climbed from the back bracing, unless designed to do so (two-in-one ladders, etc.)
  • Users should never stand above the second step from the top of a stepladder
  • Stepladders should only be placed on firm, level ground and should never be placed on boxes or tables to gain extra height

Portable Extension Ladders

Portable extension ladders are commonly used to access roofs and other high elevations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that single rung ladders be less than 30 feet in length and two-section extension ladders be less than 60 feet in length.

  • The horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder should be one-fourth the working length of the ladder, forming a 75° angle
  • When using a ladder to gain access to a roof, it should extend at least 3 feet above the roofline.
  • Nonslip bases should be attached to all portable rung ladders
  • The minimum overlap for extension ladder sections should be as follows:
Size of Ladder (feet)Overlap (feet)
Up to and including 363
Over 36, up to and including 484
Over 48, up to and including 605

General Safety Tips

  • All ladder work should be completed within the side rails; If the user's belt buckle goes outside the side rail, the ladder may become unstable and should be repositioned to reduce the amount of reach
  • Ladders should not be used in excess of their rated capacities
  • Ladders should be placed so there is secure footing—both on the ground and the surface where the top rests
  • Do not assume nonslip bases won't fall—use additional precautions when there is a hazard of slipping
  • Ladders should not be placed in front of door openings unless the door is open, locked or guarded
  • Avoid carrying items up or down a ladder by hand—use lift lines, tool belts or hoists

Ladder Maintenance

To ensure the serviceability of your ladders and safety of employees, ladders should be regularly inspected and maintained. OSHA recommends the following maintenance guidelines:

  • Check for tight joints between steps and side rails, securely attached hardware and fittings, properly operating movable parts, no cracks or sharp edges, and legible labels
  • Frequently lubricate metal bearings of locks, wheels and pulleys
  • Replace frayed or badly worn rope on extension ladders
  • Keep safety feet and other auxiliary equipment in good condition
  • Keep rungs and steps free of mud, grease, oil and other slippery substances
  • Never paint, place stickers or tape, or otherwise cover any portion of a ladder
  • When defects are noticed, ladders should be removed from service and tagged "Dangerous–Do Not Use" until they can be repaired or replaced

Ladder Training

As simple it sounds, employees should be trained on the proper selection, use and care of ladders. Employees who have been using ladders for many years may have developed habits that increase their risk for a fall. Ladder training should include the following Information:

  • Choosing the right ladder for the task
  • Inspecting the ladder before and after each use
  • Setting up and taking down the ladder
  • How to secure the top of extension ladders and the importance of clearing the area around the ladder
  • Making sure the hands are free and soles are clean when preparing to go up and down a ladder
  • Facing the ladder when climbing or descending, always maintaining three points of contact
  • Working from the ladder
  • Discuss keeping the center of the body between the side rails

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