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How can Ladder Safety be Improved?


Every day across the United States, thousands of people use ladders. Whether for their profession or as a homeowner, ladders can help get the job done. As handy as they are, they can also be dangerous.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) collects data about ladder safety. Their recent findings show:

  • Falls from ladders account for 26 percent of nonfatal and 16 percent of fatal workplace injuries.
  • Nonfatal falls lead to serious injury in many cases and result in an average of 20 days off work.
  • Ladder injuries account for approximately $24 billion in costs in the United States.

What are Common Ladder Hazards?

There are many different ways a person can harm themselves on a ladder, including injury from:

Slipping. When there is insufficient friction between footwear and the rung of a ladder, the person may slip and fall.

Missing a rung. When climbing up or down a ladder, a person may accidentally skip a rung and fall.

Losing one’s balance. Older adults, people who suffer from height-induced vertigo, and inexperienced climbers may quickly lose their balance on a ladder.

Improper usage. Using a ladder for anything other than what it was intended for can lead to a serious accident.

Using the wrong ladder. There are specific ladders for specific uses. Using the incorrect ladder can cause an accident or injury.

Electrical shock. Using a ladder too close to power lines can cause electrical shock, serious injury, and even death.

Instability. Ladders need a solid foundation to stand on while in use. Sometimes they will move or slip if placed on an uneven surface, gravel, and similar unstable bases.

Improper maintenance. A ladder with a missing or loose rung, broken bolts and rivets, or other damage can easily cause a slip or fall.

User error. A ladder is great for painting, cleaning gutters, getting on roofs, and other jobs, but the user must employ it correctly. For example, a painter who leans off the ladder to reach a distant spot can easily fall off.

The above is not an exhaustive list of ladder hazards. The takeaway is that a person needs to use caution and vigilance while on a ladder and keep ladder safety top of mind.

How can Ladder Safety be Improved?

Studies are underway that look at ladder design and usage in relation to slip and fall risk. Although these studies are important and may lead to new ladder designs and safety features, there are things a worker or homeowner can do currently to improve safety while using a ladder. These include:

Proper planning and prevention. No matter if the ladder is being used at home or on the job, there are specific safety procedures to follow before setting up the ladder:

  • Inspect the ladder for stable and solid rungs, adequately working parts, and loose nuts or bolts that need to be fixed before use.
  • Review the foundation on which the ladder will rest. Be sure it is even, not slippery, and can hold the weight of the ladder and user.
  • Check the ladder’s footpads. Make sure they are even and stable. If not, carefully placed shims can help keep the ladder straight.
  • Check for overhead wires and other potential obstructions across the entire space where the ladder will be used and moved.
  • If the ladder is placed on grass, step on the first rung to let it sink into the ground a bit, thereby increasing its stability.
  • Be sure to place the ladder in the correct position. For example, if an extension ladder is being used to paint a house, the ladder base should be approximately 75 degrees from the bottom of the house.
  • If using a ladder to mount a roof, be sure it rests securely at least three feet above where the user intends to go.
  • Do not place a ladder near a door that could open onto the user. If it must be near a door, put a warning note on the door.

Correct ladder selection. There are many types of ladders, each designed to handle a specific kind of job. Choosing the correct ladder for the intended work can significantly contribute to safety.

When choosing whether to use a portable ladder, such as a stepladder, be sure it can support the user’s weight and associated tools. Also, review the work site when choosing a ladder. A fiberglass ladder is safer than a metal ladder near electrical sources, for example.

There are three general classes of ladders:

  • Type I: Industrial
  • I: Heavy-duty use; load capacity not more than 250 pounds.
  • IA: Heavy-duty use; load capacity no more than 300 pounds.
  • Type II: Commercial
  • Medium-duty use; load capacity no more than 225 pounds. Often used for painting and similar work.
  • Type III: Household
  • Light-duty use; load capacity of 200 pounds.

Safe work procedures. Accidents can be prevented in many cases if the ladder user practices safe behaviors. Those working at home or in a workplace should follow safety procedures as well, including:

  • No stretching or leaning while on a ladder. Do not overreach; move the ladder as needed.
  • Only one person should be on a ladder at a time.
  • Calculate the total weight placed on the ladder, including the person, tools, and materials. Be sure the ladder can support the weight.
  • Do not use the top three rungs of an extension ladder.
  • If possible, have someone hold the ladder while in use.
  • Wear slip-resistant shoes.
  • Keep hands free while climbing.
  • Always face the ladder when climbing or descending.
  • If climbing onto a roof, step sideways.
  • Do not be in a hurry while on a ladder; do not move quickly or turn suddenly.
  • Maintain focus on ladder and body position while in use.

Adequate ladder maintenance

  • Keep ladder away from heat, weather, and materials that could lead to corrosion.
  • Always clean the ladder after use.
  • Store the ladder in a safe place away from the weather, which can damage the ladder’s integrity.

Tips for Workplace Ladder Safety

Employers may or may not have required policies and procedures for safe ladder use. Following are some tips for ladder safety at work:

  • Maintain three contact points with the ladder while climbing up or down to avoid loss of balance, two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot, at least. Be cognizant of this rule if employees must carry supplies, tools, or materials.
  • Employ the Occupational Safety and Hazard Association’s (OSHA) six-foot rule for fall protection: Tie the ladder off if the employee will be working more than six feet off the ground. Be aware that the height of a fall may be different depending on where the person is working, along a straight wall versus an open staircase, for example.
  • Use ladders with a built-in leveling system for better balance and less tipping on uneven surfaces.
  • Consider ladders with enclosed platforms that allow employees to use both hands for their tasks.
  • Stairstep ladders are great for tasks in which an employee must carry tools or materials.
  • Purchase ladders that meet or exceed OSHA safety standards.
  • Use ladders for their intended purpose; do not modify them or allow workers to use them for anything for which they were not intended.
  • Have a trained inspector check ladders periodically for cracks, sags, loose connections, and other hazards.
  • Analyze whether a ladder is the best tool for the task. For example, a boom lift or scaffolding may be better in certain situations.
  • Never allow a worker with vertigo or who is feeling dizzy or lightheaded to climb a ladder.
  • Do not allow ladder use outdoors in wind or rain or near doors or heavily traveled pathways in the workplace without adequate signage or safety cones.

Wilmington Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Advocate for Workers Injured on the Job

Workers who are hurt by falls from ladders or other types of workplace injuries are entitled to fair and just compensation from their employer’s Workers’ Compensation insurance. The Wilmington Workers’ Compensation lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC  can help employees hurt on the job recover costs for medical bills and loss of income. Call us today at 302-888-1221 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients in Dover, Newark, and Middletown.