Although ladders are relatively simple devices, they can be quite dangerous. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), around half a million (500,000) people are treated for ladder-related injuries every year in the U.S. Of those injured, about 300 die. In all, the problem costs the country around $24 billion in medical bills, rehabilitation, and lost productivity.
With so much at stake, ladder safety should always be a priority at every job site. Whether it's construction, contracting, roofing, or any other workplace, ladder safety tips can save lives and reduce costs. So, with that in mind, we want to share this vital information with you. Here's what you need to know.
There are many unique options when picking a ladder for your workplace. Here is a rundown of the various ladder types available.
- Articulated Ladder - These models offer excellent versatility as they can be used as a stepladder, extension ladder, trestle ladder, or scaffold. These ladders work is by folding into smaller sections, with locking mechanisms at each hinge. Workers can adjust the position and length and lock each hinge for safety.
- Combination Ladder - This unit is very similar to an articulated ladder in that it can be used in various ways. However, combination ladders don't fold as many times, opting instead for a single hinge at the top.
- Extension Ladder -Extension ladders are not self-supporting, meaning they require a sturdy surface upon which to rest. Extension ladders can extend beyond their original length, making them ideal for job sites where workers need to climb high, such as roofing.
- Stepladder -This is the most common type of ladder. Only one side is designed for climbing, while the other is built as a support structure. Stepladders use weight ratings to determine their safety. Following these ratings is crucial to avoid disaster.
- Trestle Ladder -These ladders are similar to stepladders; except they are built to accommodate two climbers at once. Both sides have rungs and can support each person's weight.
- Platform Ladder - As the name suggests, this ladder has a top platform for standing. This model type is similar to a stepladder, except a top bar helps stabilize workers while standing on the platform. This option is ideal for painters and other workers who stand on a ladder for extended periods.
Common Ladder Hazards
Before we can look into the top ladder safety tips, we should first understand the dangers these devices pose for workers. The main hazard is falling, as workers can severely injure themselves if, and when, a fall occurs. However, here are some specific conditions that can lead to ladder falls:
- Overreaching - All ladders have a center of balance. If an employee reaches too far in one direction, they could offset that balance and cause the ladder to tip over.
- Exceeding the Weight Limit - If someone is too heavy for a particular ladder, they could cause it to bend, break, or shift off balance.
- Standing Too High - Most top steps or rungs are not designed to support a person's weight. So, if a worker stands on the top step, they could break it and fall. It's also easy for individuals to lose balance in these situations.
- Misusing a Ladder -Stepladders must always have all four feet on the ground. However, some workers may lean the stepladder against a surface and avoid using the back legs. If this happens, the ladder could buckle under the weight.
- Unstable Ground - Ladders must remain stable at all times. Placing a ladder on uneven terrain can cause it to tip over, particularly when someone is on it. Another hazard could be slipping if the feet are not secured correctly.
- Mishandling Tools - Some workers may try to toss tools and other materials to someone on a ladder. Doing this could cause that person to overreach and lose balance.
Ladder Safety Tips
While climbing and using a ladder seems straightforward, many workers don't follow proper procedures. Here are our top eleven ladder safety guidelines to ensure a safe and accommodating workplace.
1. Always Wear Protective Gear
Many workers avoid wearing any protective equipment when climbing a ladder. However, gear like hard hats, gloves, and boots can go a long way toward avoiding disaster. Not only can these pieces prevent slipping, but they can protect the worker on impact if they fall. Even a tumble from 10 feet can send a person to the hospital, especially if they land on their head or neck.
2. Never Use a Worn or Damaged Ladder
Most ladders are made from three primary materials - wood, fiberglass, or metal (typically aluminum). Wooden ladders can rot, while aluminum ladders can bend. Fiberglass materials may fade or become brittle over time, making these ladders unsafe. Before climbing, be sure to inspect the ladder for any signs of damage or wear.
3. Secure the Ladder's Feet
Non-self-supporting ladders can be more hazardous because the feet can slide out while someone is climbing. Before using the ladder, it's imperative to secure the feet as much as possible. Most ladders have non-slip rubber feet, but those that do not require some kind of brace. If necessary, use a partner to hold the ladder in place until the job is finished.
4. Keep Your Ladder Clean and Dry
Wet ladders can be more dangerous because workers can slip on individual rungs while working. Wet or dirty ladders can also wear down faster, particularly wooden ones. Before putting a ladder away, be sure to wipe it down. A clean ladder is a safe ladder.
5. Know the Weight Rating
There are five weight classes for ladders. Keep in mind that these numbers are total weights, including an individual and any gear they may be carrying. It's always a good idea to stay under the max weight limit if possible. Here is a rundown of each class:
- Type III - Light-Duty - Max 200 pounds
- Type II - Medium-Duty - Max 225 pounds
- Type I - Heavy-Duty - Max 250 pounds
- Type IA - Extra Heavy-Duty - Max 300 pounds
- Type IAA - Extra Heavy-Duty - Max 375 pounds
6. Never Put A Ladder On Anything But Solid Ground
Sometimes, when a ladder doesn't reach its target, workers may elevate it by using boxes or other materials. Doing this can cause the base to slip out, creating a significant fall hazard. Always place a ladder on flat ground to ensure the weight is balanced and safety is optimized.
7. Always Double-Check Locking Mechanisms
Stepladders and articulating ladders use locks to keep the sides from folding in on themselves. Before climbing, your workers should double-check that these locks are engaged.
8. Train Employees on Ladder Safety Procedures
In many cases, accidents happen because workers aren't following the rules. However, if you haven't trained them properly, the failure rests on your shoulders. Ladder safety training is essential to a safe and productive workplace, so be sure that all employees go through this essential training and sign off that they understand the rules. Following this tip can save you headaches and costly insurance claims later on.
9. Secure the Top of Extension Ladders
When using single-piece ladders, both the top and bottom sections have to be secured. If not, the ladder can slide out of place and cause a fall. Tying the top with rope or similar fasteners can help keep the ladder from slipping.
10. Set Ladders at the Right Angle
When using non-self-supporting ladders, it's crucial to set them at the correct angle. If the ladder is too vertical, it's easier for a worker to fall off. If the device is too horizontal, it could put too much pressure on the rungs, causing them to break. The ideal angle is 75.5 degrees, although there is a little flexibility on either side.
11. Never Use a Ladder in Inclement Weather
There is really no reason to climb on a ladder when it's rainy, windy, or stormy. As we mentioned, wet ladders can cause workers to slip, and high winds can topple them easily. If there is a lightning storm, metal ladders act as excellent conductors, putting employees at even higher risk of electrocution.
How to Choose a Ladder for Your Workplace
Once you understand the potential hazards and safety precautions, it's much easier to pick a ladder for your job site. Here are some additional tips to ensure that your workers stay safe:
- Buy Ladders for Different Activities - Extension ladders are suitable for some situations, while platform ladders are better in others. Don't take a "one-size-fits-all" approach to selecting a ladder.
- Overestimate Your Weight Class -Even if most of your workers weigh less than 250 pounds, what happens if they need to bring equipment with them? Instead, it's much better to provide a weight buffer to avoid potential falls or breaks.
- Consider Your Industry - Each workplace has unique challenges and safety hazards. For example, electrical workers shouldn't use metal ladders because they can be excellent conductors. Wood ladders are also dangerous because they can be a fire hazard.
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