According to the CDC, ladders account for nearly 20% of fall injuries in the workplace, which makes them one of the most dangerous items in your organization.
Ladder safety is a hot topic in many organizations, and OSHA has developed stringent regulations and guidelines to reduce risk associated with ladders.
This brief ladder safety guide can help your team understand the OSHA standards for ladder safety and become more safety conscious when using, moving, carrying, or storing a ladder.
#1 – Never Disregard Common Sense
Some aspects of ladder safety should need no explanation, but OSHA has taken no chances when documenting proper precautions.
OSHA rule 1926.1053(b)(13) states that the top of a ladder should never be used as a step.
1926.1053(b)(4) indicates that ladders should only be used for the job for which they were designed. Yes, even ladders have different functions, and your team should know the difference.
And finally, 1926.1053(b)(16 – 17) says that all defective ladders should be marked as such so employees know not to use them.
These points sound like common sense, but reinforcing them to your team can help ensure that even the smallest details don’t go overlooked.
#2 – Ladders Have Their Limits
Ladders are often critical to performing tasks, but they have their limits. Recognizing how much weight a ladder can handle, where it can be placed, and where its strengths and weaknesses are can help your workers to use them safely and protect themselves in the process.
According to OSHA:
- Ladders should not be loaded beyond its maximum capacity (the capacity should be indicated on every ladder).
- Ladders should only be used on flat, stable surfaces with the exception of securing them to prevent unintentional displacement.
- Finally, ladders should never be moved or shifted while someone is on the ladder.
Not complying with any of the above could put employees at risk of a fall or other related accident.
#3 – Employees Have Limits, Too
Your employees each have their own skills, abilities, and limitations that should be taken into consideration when using a ladder. Not all employees will feel comfortable using a ladder or be strong enough to move the ladder on their own. Also, you may have employees who purposely engage in risky behavior, even if they know the consequences of doing so.
OSHA regulations require users to face the ladder while descending, keep at least one hand on the ladder at all times, and refrain from carrying items up or down the ladder. In addition, you must also consider the weight load a ladder can sustain. Overweight employees may be at a higher risk for an accident if they are unable to easily maneuver up and down the ladder.
The best practice is to know who must use a ladder to do their job and if any of these employees should be prevented from doing so.
#4 – Maintenance Is Critical to Keeping Employees Safe
OSHA mandates that you routinely inspect your ladders to ensure they remain free of grease, oil, and other hazards that could cause slipping. Visual inspection for defects is a must, and any issues found should be reported immediately so the ladder can be taken out of commission.
In addition, 1926.1053(b)(18) states that any repairs made to a ladder must restore it to its original condition before anyone is allowed to use it. If repairs cannot be satisfactorily made, the ladder should not be used.
#5 – Pay Attention to Angles and Measurements
OSHA’s regulations on ladder safety include a variety of restrictions on ladder height, angle, and spacing. For example, rule 1926.1053(a)(3)(i – iii) states that rungs, steps, and cleats should be spaced between 10 and 14 inches apart, but there are few exceptions. Also, the rules can vary by ladder type (fixed versus portable).
This aspect of ladder safety can be highly technical and not easily memorized, especially as updates are made.
Because of the complexity and exceptions to some rules, it’s important you make this information readily available to employees who must use a ladder for work. However, keeping the information handy is no substitution for ensuring they at least have some knowledge of it and know how to locate the information when they need it.
Ladder accidents are preventable. The better you can prepare your team for proper ladder use, the better able you can mitigate risk and create a better work environment for all.
Further reading: OSHA Visits - How to Prepare and What to Do