What are the basic rules of ladder safety? Need some great Ladder Safety Tips? It might seem like common sense tells you everything you need to know, but there are thousands of ladder-related injuries each year because users don’t take appropriate safety measures. Along with a proper ladder safety training program, using these tips will help keep your employees safe.
This guide contains thirteen essential tips to keep you and your workers safe while climbing ladders. Also, we do have a ladder safety toolbox talk that you can check out as well, but let’s start with these 13 tips:
Table of Contents
1. Inspect the Equipment
Equipment should be checked before use. Here are five basic rules to determine whether a ladder is safe to use.
- Does it lock properly? The locking mechanism should click easily into place. If it only gets halfway but still “sort of” locks, that’s not good enough. Don’t use it!
- Is it clean? Grease and spillages should be cleaned from the rungs and rails before use. This helps keep workers safe and also makes the job more pleasant.
- Is it stable? An extension ladder shouldn’t rock or sway when positioned on a flat surface.
- Are the rungs secure? Every rung should be inspected routinely to ensure that they aren’t loose. Rattling and wobbling are signs that the ladder needs maintenance.
- Is it tall enough? Trick question – it won’t have shrunk overnight. However, the uppermost rung of many fixed ladders isn’t meant to be used as a step. If you need to climb a bit higher to reach the maintenance area, don’t risk placing two feet on an unstable rung.
2. Set It Up Properly
Ensure that you place the feet on a level surface. Uneven ground and other unstable bases cause accidents, so remove any loose stones or grit that might unsettle the feet. Then you’ve got to prop it up at a suitable angle – which leads us to the question, what is the 4-to-1 rule when using a ladder?
The 4-to-1 rule states that the ladder should rise no more than 4ft vertical for every 1ft horizontal. This reduces the risk that the person climbing the ladder will overbalance it and topple backward.
3. Ensure All Users Have Proper Training
Employees should be provided with appropriate ladder safety training materials before working at a height. Even experienced construction workers are vulnerable to workplace accidents if they aren’t trained properly and don’t use the right PPE, which means you’re liable for OSHA violation fines.
Following training, make a point of asking employees, “what are 3 ladder safety rules?” from time to time. Reminding workers that safety is more important than the perceived indignity of having to follow procedures will keep them safe at work and protect your company from fines and lawsuits.
4. Provide PPE, Make Sure Employees Use It, and Train Them How To Use It
You should provide PPE for workers before they climb a ladder. This includes:
- Hard hat – these should be provided to staff working around ladders as well as those climbing to do work.
- Tool belt – this makes it easier to access essential tools using one hand, meaning you can use the other to stabilize yourself.
- Non-slip footwear – workers should wear boots specifically designed to resist slips.
5. Use Fall Protection Where Appropriate
Depending on the ladder’s height, you may wish to set up a fall protection system. OSHA mandates that workers using a ladder at the height of at least 24ft need fall protection systems in place. These might include safety harnesses attached to secure anchor points or soft landing areas.
While there’s no obligation to provide fall protection for workers under 24ft, you should assess whether it’s needed case-by-case. For example, if you’re using an extension ladder to conduct emergency roof repairs in poor weather conditions, a fall protection system would be advantageous for operatives on the ladder even though they may be working below 24ft (in addition to OSHA-mandated fall protection for those on the roof).
Note that anchor points should always be attached to a secure surface (usually the wall of the building) and never to the ladder side rails or rungs.
6. Use the Three Points of Contact Method
The right ladder climbing technique makes a significant difference to worker safety. Employees should use the three points of contact method to remain stable while climbing. It suggests that you should always have either:
- Two hands and one foot in contact with the ladder
- One foot and two hands in contact with the ladder
This helps to maintain a firm grip and reduces the risk of falling if you miss a step as you climb. If you don’t use this technique and end up moving the same side arm/leg together, you risk overbalancing the ladder and toppling over. It’s a simple step that helps avoid serious injuries.
7. Keep the Ladder Stable
If you were to ask someone, “what are the five steps to ladder safety?” they might respond that keeping the ladder stable is probably important. They would be right – it seems obvious, but stable ladders don’t usually fall over. Despite this, hundreds of workers are injured each year because their ladder falls when they’re over 6ft off the ground.
It’s often a good idea to have a spotter at the base to hold a portable ladder in place while another worker climbs up. This person should keep a foot on the ground while holding the rails so the other can climb and work safely.
8. Keep Equipment Handy
Workers should carry tools ready to hand in a tool belt, tied with a secure belt buckle (otherwise, it could destabilize them, or tools could slip out and fall). They should be able to stand at the upper landing and easily access the tools they carry with one hand, reducing the need to stand in an unstable position.
If employees are required to use both hands for a job, then a fall protection system should be in place to keep them secure.
9. Don’t Work in Poor Conditions
Other than in emergencies (e.g., firefighting), ladders should never be used in adverse conditions. High winds increase the risk of the ladder toppling over, and you should check the weather forecast to see if wind speeds will increase throughout the day if it’s a long job.
Heavy rain makes the steps slippery and increases the chance of workers falling. Icy conditions are also extremely hazardous – if the steps or side rails get wet and the temperature is freezing, you should consider abandoning the job until better conditions are available. This is another reason that non-slip footwear is essential.
10. Don’t Use Extension Ladders If You Feel Unwell
One of our top ladder safety tips is for workers to ask themselves how they’re feeling before beginning work. You should never work at a height if you feel dizzy or nauseous. This can be disorientating and increases the risk of missing a step or accidentally leaning back too far.
Workers should feel comfortable reporting that they don’t feel well enough to work up a ladder. Employers often expect staff to “tough it out” for low-level nausea or mild illness. In an office, this poorly-advised approach might lead to the spread of germs. When working up a ladder, it could lead to a worker falling to their death when they should never have been allowed to work at a height.
11. Watch Out for Electrical Hazards
Workers should watch out for overhead power lines and other electrical hazards. These can be lethal if you touch them, and the shock can also transfer through the metal ladder, potentially harming an individual standing on the ground and holding the ladder in place.
Workers should wear proper PPE (rubber-soled boots, shock-proof gloves, etc.) when working with electrical components at a height. Those nearby should also be aware of these hazards and stand clear of areas where sparks might fly.
12. One at a Time
A critical part of ladder safety is knowing the model’s duty rating. This describes how much weight it can safely hold.
While most ladders are designed to easily hold an individual and any tools and equipment they might carry, it’s never a good idea to exceed this limit. Most of all, you should never let more than one person onto the equipment simultaneously, even if the rating claims that it can handle the weight. Multiple people standing on the equipment significantly increases the risk of overbalancing.
13. Don’t Move It While Someone’s Working
Tip #13 is for the unlucky souls whose colleagues somehow think it’s a good idea to move the ladder while they’re working up it. Never, ever move a ladder if someone is on it at any height.
The uneven weight distribution means you’ll struggle to move the equipment without it falling over. Even if you had several people moving it on the ground, the person at the top would struggle to balance as it swayed. Don’t do it.
Summary: Stay Safe at Work with OSHA-Compliant Ladder Safety Training
Following a few basic safety tips and using some common sense will keep your employees safe at work. These ladder safety tips are a great way to augment comprehensive, OSHA-compliant video training for ladder safety – make your workplace safer today.
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