Falls and electrocutions are an ever-present danger to workers who utilize extension ladders but following basic safety procedures can minimize or significantly decrease these risks. This article looks at some of the risks that workers may face while working on extension ladders and what companies and employees may do to prevent those injuries.
The Basics of Extension Ladder Safety
Extension ladder safety is a serious issue since they are one of the most used types of ladders on a construction site. According to OSHA data, falls from ladders are the fourth leading cause for all fatalities in construction and among the leading causes within that industry. On top of this, extension ladders are also responsible for hundreds of thousands of injuries annually.
An employer’s number one priority must be workplace safety. However, not all companies are safety conscious about the use of extension ladders. To make sure that workers follow safe ladder procedures, the following is a listing of basic extension ladder safety rules.
While everyone should know these guidelines, it may be difficult for inexperienced or occasional laborers to remember all the steps that need to be taken. Therefore, it may be helpful for companies with a steady workforce to create safety trainings that list some of these tips and strategies for workers. Here are some of the basics of extension ladder safety:
- Except for extra-heavy-duty type 1A metal or plastic ladders, which should be able to withstand at least 3.3 times the total planned load, use a ladder that can support at least four times the maximum intended load.
- Always read and follow the manufacturer’s directions and ladder labels. Consider your weight as well as the weight of your load when choosing the right ladder. Always include the weight of all gear, materials, and equipment when calculating the load rating.
- Before using an extension ladder, a qualified person should thoroughly check it for risks such as missing rungs, fasteners, cleats, screws, and loose components. If a ladder has these or other flaws, it must be marked as unsafe or promptly branded with “Do Not Use” or similar terminology.
- Allow enough space to enter and exit the ladder securely. Remove all equipment, materials, and tools from the area around the bottom and top of the ladder. If employees’ access is blocked, secure the top of the ladder to a rigid, non-deflecting structure, and add a gripping device to provide safe access.
- Place the ladder at the right height and angle. When leaning against a wall, keep the bottom of the ladder one-quarter of the ladder’s working length away from the building. Raise the top of the ladder three feet above the work surface or secure the ladder at the top when accessing an elevated work surface.
- Examine the area for any hazards, such as active overhead power wires, before beginning work. If there is a chance that an employee or the ladder may come into proximity with energized electrical equipment, the ladder must have nonconductive side rails. Maintain a safe distance of at least 10 feet between ladders and power lines.
- Set the ladder’s base so that the bottom is securely in place and both side rails are supported equally. Both footpads should be securely set on a stable and level surface, with the ladder rails square to the building against which it is leaning.
- When employing a ladder in a high-traffic location, secure it to prevent movement and redirect employees and equipment with a barrier. Always block off the door if the ladder is put in front of one.
Training Employees on Ladder Safety
Employers must train each employee to recognize and reduce the risks associated with ladders. Employee training is a critical component of ensuring that workers use extension ladders safely. Employers should ensure that training is documented by keeping records of the date, time, and length of the training and a record of participation. They should also keep copies of any handouts or other materials from the training session available for employees to share with others if necessary.
When an employee is being trained on the use of extension ladders, employers should briefly explain to them:
- ladder safety.
- how to read and interpret label information.
- when it is safe to utilize certain types of ladders; and
- how to perform routine maintenance of a ladder.
Employers must document that each employee has received this training. In addition, they should provide this information and instructions to all other employees who are expected to use or have access to extension ladders so that everyone understands the basic safety guidelines.
Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of basic extension ladder safety.
The Do’s of Ladder Safety:
- When climbing or descending a ladder, maintain a three-point touch (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand).
- When ascending or descending the ladder, keep your back to it.
- Keep your body inside the side rail when getting on or off the ladder at the top or bottom. Avoid tipping the ladder sideways or allowing the base to fall out.
- Carry tools in a tool belt or use a hand line to lift them. When climbing up or down a ladder, never carry tools in your hands. Extend the top of the ladder three feet over the landing.
- Keep any slippery materials off ladders.
The Don’ts of Ladder Safety
- Place a ladder on top of boxes, barrels, or shaky foundations.
- Use a ladder if the ground is soft or the footing is shaky.
- Exceed the maximum load capacity of the ladder.
- Make a longer ladder by tying two ladders together.
- Ignore the presence of neighboring electricity lines.
- Shift or move a ladder with a person or equipment on it.
- Lean out past the side rails of the ladder.
- Use an extension ladder as a platform by extending it horizontally.
Final Thoughts on Extension Ladder Safety
Remember, ladders should only be used for the purpose for which they were manufactured. It is a violation of OSHA standards to use a ladder in any manner that violates its intended or everyday use. In addition, employers must train each employee to recognize and reduce hazards related to extension ladders. And workers should wear proper safety gear when using an extension ladder. This includes sturdy, slip-resistant footwear, and a hard hat.