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ARI Blog: Article

Ladder Safety

For restoration contracts, falls remain a leading cause of unintentional injury. In fact, 43 percent of fatal falls in the last decade have involved a ladder. Among construction workers, an estimated 81 percent of fall injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments involve a ladder. Accident statistics like this one suggest that individuals are misusing ladders in the workplace as a rule, rather than the exception; thereby, contributing to the tens of thousands of injuries involving ladders that occur annually.

There are a number of factors that must be considered to work safely from a ladder, including:

  • Ladder selection

  • Maintenance and inspection

  • Carrying and moving ladders

  • Ladder set up

  • Preparation and making the climb

Ladder selection

The materials from which ladders are constructed have advantages and disadvantages in weight, durability, flexibility, conductivity, and strength. The intended use of the ladder should determine the type purchased, and only American National Standard Institute approved ladders should be used. One major caution is that metal ladders should never be used in locations where the ladder or its user could come into contact with electricity.

Maintenance and Inspection

Ladders should be inspected before use: check for cracks, loose rungs, slivers and sharp edges. Never paint ladders, as the paint can hide potentially dangerous conditions. Wooden ladders can be coated with linseed oil or an oil-based wood preservative to keep them from drying out and caking. Allow ladders to dry thoroughly before using them or the rungs may be slippery. The rungs and siderails of ladders must be kept free of oil, grease and mud, etc.

Carrying and Moving Ladders

When physically moving a ladder, it should first be determined whether or not the ladder is too long or heavy to be moved alone. If so, help should be obtained in moving the ladder. Prior to making the move the area should be surveyed to check for obstructions, including overhead power lines, etc. Ladders should be carried horizontally rather than vertically. When moving a ladder to a new location after it has been positioned vertically, it should be taken down and set up at the new location. Once vertical, a ladder can only be moved horizontally if it is a lightweight ladder or under eight feet tall.

Ladder Setup

Ladders should be set at, or as near as, a 4:1 angle as possible. That is, for each three or four feet of rise from the base to the upper resting edge of the ladder, the base should be one foot out from a vertical line from the upper resting edge of the ladder to the working surface. The base of the ladder must be firmly set so that there is no possibility of slippage or settling into soft ground. The resting edge of the ladder should have both siderails in contact with the object (building or tree) it is against. When setting a ladder against a tree, set the ladder in the crotch of two limbs so that it cannot slide in either direction. Whenever there is any question as to the stability of the ladder, additional effort should be made to stabilize the ladder as it is being climbed.

Staying Safe

A frequent cause of ladder accidents is attempting to reach too far left or right. This point emphasizes the need for selecting the proper ladder and proper ladder placement and setup. When working on a ladder, the person's belt buckle should never extend beyond the siderails. Reaching further can cause the ladder to slide in the opposite direction. Never attempt to shift the position of the ladder while you’re on it. Tying the ladder to the structure supporting it can prevent this and is a recommended practice. Only one person should be on the ladder at a time.

When climbing a ladder always maintain three points of contact and face the ladder. Workers should have both hands free to hold the ladders siderails, not the rungs, when climbing or descending. Small tools may be carried in a tool belt, not in the hands; but a better choice is to raise tools and supplies with a rope. Never raise or lower power tools by the cord or while they are plugged into an electrical source. Only shoes with heels should be worn when climbing ladders; users should be taught that the rung or step of the ladder should be just in front of the heel, under the arch of the foot. Stepping or standing on a ladder with the front part of the shoe is inviting a slip and fall. Always face the ladder when climbing or descending.

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