Who can guess the most often cited OSHA violation in construction? If you said fall protection, you’re dead on. Scaffolding and ladders are number 2 and 3. Ladder safety falls (pun intended) under the general category of fall protection in the workplace. In addition to keeping you out of trouble with everyone’s favorite government watchdog (okay, maybe second favorite after the IRS), these ladder safety tips and training guidelines can keep your employees safe.
It doesn’t do your company any good to have your best roofer on the sideline collecting workman’s comp while you bring in the JV squad to try and replace his productivity. We’ve gathered some guidelines from OSHA to help you be aware of their requirements on ladder safety. We’ve also collected some of the best common-sense practices from the manufacturers to help keep your workplace a little safer.
OSHA Ladder Safety Guidelines
OSHA Construction eTool
The OSHA Construction eTool gives you lots of safety advice—much of it common-sense. You’ll hear that word pop up a lot in this article!
Self-supporting (foldout) and non-self-supporting (leaning) portable ladders must be able to support at least 4 times the maximum intended load, except extra-heavy-duty metal or plastic ladders, which must be able to sustain 3.3 times the maximum intended load.
So if you and your gear weigh 210 pounds, your ladder needs to be rated for 840 pounds minimum.
Non-self-supporting ladders, which must lean against a wall or other support, are to be positioned at such an angle that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is about 1/4 the working length of the ladder.
Make a triangle our of your ladder, the ground, and what you’re leaning against. The short side (the ground between where the ladder touches the ground and directly beneath what the ladder is leaning against) needs to be 1/4 the length of the long side (the part of the ladder from where it hits the ground to where it hits what it’s leaning against.)
Ladder rungs, cleats, or steps must be parallel, level, and uniformly spaced when the ladder is in position for use. Rungs must be spaced between 10 and 14 inches apart.
For extension trestle ladders, the spacing must be 8-18 inches for the base, and 6-12 inches on the extension section.
Rungs must be so shaped that an employee’s foot cannot slide off, and must be skid-resistant.
This is pretty much a no-brainer as far as ladder safety tips go. I don’t know that anyone is manufacturing ladders that don’t meet these standards anymore, but if you’re using an older ladder, be sure to check it.
Ladders are to be kept free of oil, grease, wet paint, and other slipping hazards.
Wood ladders must not be coated with any opaque covering, except identification or warning labels on one face only of a side rail.
Most of us would never consciously leave a slip hazard on our ladders, particularly while work is going on. Just be sure to clean up your ladder like you would any of your other tools when something gets spilled on them. Oh, and be sure to leave your One Direction fan sticker somewhere other than the ladder.
Foldout or stepladders must have a metal spreader or locking device to hold the front and back sections in an open position when in use.
Again, this design flaw is not something that is a common issue.
When two or more ladders are used to reach a work area, they must be offset with a landing or platform between the ladders.
… and they’re not talking about a 6-inch ledge. This might seems like one of those obscure ladder safety tips, but it actually makes sense. Without a landing, you really just end up stacking them on top of each other. That’s super-dangerous.
The area around the top and bottom of ladder must be kept clear.
Ladders must not be tied or fastened together to provide longer sections, unless they are specifically designed for such use.
I know how to tie almost every knot you can for fishing, and I don’t know a single one that would make me think it was smart to tie to ladders together.
Never use a ladder for any purpose other than the one for which it was designed.
Ladder = Scaffolding? No, my friend. You’re begging for an OSHA fine if you try a modify the intended use of a ladder.
Resources for Ladder Safety Training
Even the manufacturers are concerned about ladder safety training. Following are some ladder safety tips that they offer. Hopefully, these help keep the doctors on the golf course instead of looking at our X-rays in the ER.
- Keep your body centered to weight is evenly distributed.
- If something is out of reach laterally, get down and move the ladder.
- If you forget something, climb back down to get it. Don’t reach down from halfway while someone tries to hand it to you.
- If it’s not a backpack or tool belt that is designed to be carried hands free, climb up first and haul it up with a line.
- Always face the ladder while you climb and stick with three points of contact.
- Consider the top two steps on a step ladder or top four rungs on an extension ladder as decoration. Your feet do not go on them!
- Find a place to use stable ground as the base for your ladder.
- If you’re on a prescription drug, have been using illegal drugs, or have been drinking, don’t climb.
- Flip slops, sandals, bare feet, and ladders do not mix. Period.
- If you’re climbing, there needs to be someone else on site with you.
You can’t overcome physics and gravity. What goes up will come down, either controlled or uncontrolled. The bottom line when it comes to ladder safety is that there are people that want you to come home. They don’t want to visit you in the hospital nor attend your funeral. Even if ladder safety precautions irk you and OSHA is just a big pain your rear end, keep them in mind simply out of respect for the people that you love.
For additional ladder safety training resources, visit OSHA.gov.