Workplace Ladder Safety Guide

Workplace Ladder Safety Guide

Ladder accidents hurt, both literally and figuratively. They account for a large chunk of injuries from falls at work. But many ladder mishaps can be prevented with proper precautions.

This workplace ladder safety guide will walk you through ladder safety dos and don’ts to keep you off the ground and on your feet.

Take a Step Back – Do You Really Need a Ladder Here?

Before immediately dragging out a ladder, pause and assess the situation. Ask yourself: is there a safer way to do this task without a ladder? Could you use a lift or scaffold instead? Ladders should be your absolute last resort for access.

Only use ladders for short, simple jobs that will take less than 30 minutes up there. They aren’t meant as permanent work stations. The higher up you go, the higher the risk if you fall. Look for alternatives before committing to an unsteady ladder.

Pick the Right Ladder for the Task

Not all ladders are equal. The type of ladder and its condition greatly impact safety.

For general use, select fiberglass or aluminum ladders instead of wood. Metal and fiberglass are electrically non-conductive, stronger and more durable. Make sure ladder rungs and steps have grippy surfaces that won’t slip.

Thoroughly inspect each ladder before climbing. Check for cracked, bent or missing rungs/steps. Ensure rails are straight and not warped. If anything looks questionable, tag the ladder “out of service” and don’t use it. Only climb ladders in tip-top shape.

Make sure to pick a ladder rated for the weight and height you need. Don’t overload it. Check the ladder’s duty rating before climbing up there.

Follow the 4-to-1 Rule for Proper Ladder Angles

Position straight and extension ladders at about a 75 degree angle, with the base 1 foot away from the structure for every 4 feet in working ladder height.

This 4-to-1 ratio gives the best stability. Use ladder leg extenders if needed to achieve the right angle on uneven ground. Angle indicators on the rails can also help maintain the proper pitch.

Every time you reposition a ladder, double check it’s still at the proper 4-to-1 angle. Just a minute of attention here prevents potential catastrophe.

Ensure the Ladder Base is Securely Planted

Before climbing, check that the ladder’s feet are planted on a stable, level surface. The ground should be firm and slip-resistant. Make sure the area is free of tripping dangers.

On slippery floors, secure ladder feet with skid-resistant pads. Placing rubber mats or plywood underneath can also give better traction.

Never rest ladders on questionable bases like chairs, boxes or other objects. Only plant them on sound, solid ground. Stability is key.

Securely Tie Off the Ladder Top

With the base firmly planted, tie off the ladder top to prevent sideways sliding and movement.

On straight ladders, hook the top rung over a secure anchor point. For extension models, fully engage all the locks before ascending.

Tying off the top is vital for keeping extension ladders steady. Take a minute to do this – it can save you from a bone-breaking fall.

Maintain Three Points of Contact on Ladders

Keep two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, touching the ladder at all times when climbing. This provides stability and minimizes chances of slipping.

Avoid carrying tools and materials as you climb. Use a hand line to raise them once in position. Don’t overload yourself and risk losing your grip.

When climbing, go slow and be mindful of your balance. Sudden movements or overreaching can lead to disaster. Take it easy.

Position Ladders at a Safe Climbing Angle

Set up straight ladders between 75-90 degrees for easier, safer ascents. Extension models should stick closer to 75 degrees. The steeper the angle, the more vertical height you gain.

But don’t sacrifice safety for a few extra feet. Pitched too vertically, ladders become unsteady and prone to backwards tipping. When in doubt, err toward shallower angles.

Properly setting up ladders prevents mishaps down the road. Take the time to do it right before exposing yourself at heights.

Assess the Area Before Setting Up a Ladder

Scan your surroundings for any hazards before ladder setup. Avoid placing ladders in busy pathways or doorways where they can get bumped into.

Ensure adequate lighting is available so you can see clearly while climbing. Never use ladders around exposed electrical lines – way too risky.

In vehicle traffic areas, set up barricades to prevent dangerous collisions with ladders. Station someone there to monitor as an added precaution.

Have a Spotter Monitor the Ladder

When possible, have a coworker “foot” the ladder to keep it steady and watch for problems. Station them at the base for big jobs where the ladder could get knocked over.

Agree on hand signals with your spotter in case you need to come down quickly or they notice something wrong. Clear communication means fast reaction if issues arise.

Having someone monitor your ladder does wonders for preventing accidents. Take advantage of a spotter whenever you can.

Don’t Work More Than 10 Feet Up a Ladder

Work from lower rungs whenever possible, keeping your belt buckle below the ladder top. Only go above 10 feet if absolutely necessary.

Never stand on the top 3 rungs on straight ladders, or go above 10 feet on extension models. Risk of collapse, shock and passing out multiply at those heights.

If you need to go higher than 10 feet, use a scaffold or lift instead. The fall risk on ladders gets exponentially higher. Stick to lower levels.

Wear the Right Clothes and Shoes for Ladders

Wear fully-covering, slip-resistant footwear like work boots when climbing ladders. The thick tread grips rungs better and prevents slips.

Avoid loose-fitting clothes that can catch on ladders or tools. Also tie back long hair and remove dangling jewelry before climbing.

Proper ladder attire enhances traction and reduces tripping risks. Don’t neglect these simple safeguards.

Take it Slow on Ladders

Rushing leads to slips and mistakes on ladders. Proceed slowly and deliberately when climbing up or down. Use controlled movements of hands and feet.

Make sure to keep your weight centered between the ladder’s side rails as you climb. Sudden motions can unbalance and topple a ladder quickly.

Patience pays off. Focus on steady, unhurried progress up and down. Avoid undue haste.

Keep Your Body Centered on the Ladder

Don’t lean or overreach too far to the sides when working atop a ladder. Doing so shifts your weight and adds torque, increasing chances of tipping over.

Move your ladder as needed to keep your belt buckle centered between the rails. Avoid extending arms or tools too far off the sides.

When reaching sideways, brace your legs and keep your core weight even to prevent teetering. Take it cautiously.

Get Off Immediately If the Ladder Shifts

Ladders can seem steady at first, then suddenly slip or shift under your weight. There’s often little to no warning before they fail.

At the first hint of ladder movement below, get off using the rungs/steps. Don’t try finishing the task or stabilizing the ladder.

A shifting, rocking or sliding ladder is incredibly dangerous. Descend ASAP before it gives way or slips out from under you.

Avoid Ladders in Windy Conditions

When possible, don’t use ladders on excessively windy days. Strong gusts can easily blow over an unattended ladder, or one you’re working on.

If ladder use is unavoidable in windy weather, brace, tie or weigh down the ladder to avoid blowing over. Have someone anchor it if needed.

At the first sign of ladder movement in gusty winds, get off immediately. Don’t take chances thirty feet up if shifting occurs.

Carry Ladders Horizontally

When moving ladders by hand, carry them horizontally under one arm. Face the direction you’re walking to prevent hitting anything.

Don’t try to carry them vertically perched on your shoulder – they can easily strike others or objects. Also avoid dragging them behind you.

Use two people to carry very long ladders, holding each end level. Be extra cautious moving through doorways.