Every year thousands of men, women and children are seriously injured or killed falling from ladders. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics falls from ladders accounted for 20% of all fatal falls alone in 2009 . Many if not all of these injuries or deaths could have been avoided if proper ladder safety procedures were followed.
The ladder is one of the simplest tools that a person can use, and it can be used safely given proper instruction. The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) mandates in their "Safety and Health Regulations" that all personnel who are going to use a ladder be properly trained. "The employer shall provide a training program for each employee using ladders and stairways, as necessary. The program shall enable each employee to recognize hazards related to ladders and stairways, and shall train each employee in the procedures to be followed to minimize these hazards" is written specifically into the regulations .
There are many simple steps that can be taken to ensure that all personnel using a ladder do so in a safe and efficient manner, protecting not only themselves but those around them.
CHECK THE SITE Look around you and ask yourself these questions: Is it safe to get on the ladder today? Is it windy? Is there water or ice that could make the ground or the ladder slippery? Is the ground solid under the area where the ladder will be placed? Are there any power lines that could be an electrical hazard? Will my ladder be a hazard to anyone else? Are there any other hazards near the work area? These are all simple questions that can save a lot of grief!
CORRECT LADDER Ladders are rated for specific uses. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rating sticker should be on every ladder stating the ladder use and weight restrictions. Ensure that the ladder will hold not only your weight, but that of your equipment too.
INSPECT THE LADDER Is my ladder in good condition? Are there any areas that are cracked or broken? Are there any missing screws or bolts? Are there any loose pieces? Never use a damaged ladder! Ensure that it is properly marked and put aside for proper repair, or destroyed. NEVER leave a broken ladder in an area where someone else may use it!
GET A HELPER Two people can carry a ladder easier than one. A second person also makes it a lot easier to set up a ladder safely! It can save unnecessary back strain or injury and it is safer! Your helper can also play a second role as a ladder "stabilizer" when the ladder has been set up.
SETTING UP THE LADDER Ensure that nothing has changed since you originally looked at the work area. Make sure that the ladder is not placed in a doorway where someone could accidentally knock it over, or a door could push the ladder down. Have your helper hold and guard the base. The Center to Protect Workers' Rights recommends that "The base of the ladder should be 1 foot from the building (or top support, such as an eave) for every 4 feet of ladder length up to the resting position." If a stepladder is used, ensure the braces are locked.
CLIMBING When climbing a ladder, there are many things to keep in mind. Do not climb a ladder carrying tools or equipment. Hands (and feet) should be free of impediments. This will also allow you to keep "three point contact" (one hand and two feet, or two hands and one foot) while climbing. If you need to carry something to the area where you are working (such as a tool) put the tool in your tool belt, or if the tool or equipment is too large, use a rope and haul it up to you. Another good reason to have a helper with you!
GET TO WORK! When you are on the ladder, there are a few more things to keep in mind. First of all, don't over reach! Many people fall off of ladders because they are reaching for something and get off balance. A good rule to ensure that you are not over reaching is to keep your belt buckle between the rungs of the ladder .
CLEAN-UP Once the job is finished it is time to safely lower tools and equipment down to your helper. Ensure you are free of anything that could make you slip or fall (like a power cord wrapped around your leg) and climb back down the ladder using the same controlled three point contact movements that you used to ascend. Keep the belt buckle between the rungs and your face forward as you slowly and safely climb back to earth.
FINAL INSPECTION Once your ladder has been removed from the work area, inspect it once more to ensure that nothing was broken during use, and also ensure that you ladder is clean and ready for the next time you will need it. Take care of your tools and they will take care of you!
There are many good resources available online regarding ladder use and safety. These are just a few of the numerous sites available:
OSHA Safety and Health Regulations for Construction: Ladders
American Ladder Institute http://www.laddersafety.org/ls/Content.aspx?pageid=81
Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health http://www.elcosh.org/en/sitemap.html
Occupational Safety and Health Administration - eTool http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/construction/falls/4ladders.html
The Center for Construction - Research and Training http://www.cpwr.com/search.php
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission http://www.cpsc.gov/library/neiss.html