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Ladder Safety Tips for Pros

Ladder Safety

Improper ladder use can lead to fatalities

Unfortunately, one of the tools concrete contractors use most often can be the most dangerous. Improper ladder use plays a part in one of every three fatalities on today’s jobsites. And the failure to use a stepladder properly was also the sixth most common citation (2,567) issued by OSHA inspectors in 2017 (http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/16362-oshas-top-10-most-cited-).

These numbers aren’t likely to improve until everyone clearly understands when a ladder should be used. OSHA is very specific about when and where contractors should provide ladders for their workers. They stipulate that a stairway or ladder must be provided at all worker points-of-access when there’s an elevation break greater than 19 inches with no ramp, runway, embankment or personnel hoist available. A discussion of safe access to work places, including ladder use, should be a part of every pre-job safety review with the general contractor.

In the following pages you’ll find tips to help identify when ladders should be used, how to select the right ladder for the task and common do’s and dont’s.

Four common ladder mistakes contractors must avoid

Contractors know the right tool choice can make a big difference in productivity and safety. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for which ladder should be used in each specific situation. Ladders required for installing flashings around windows may be different than ladders used to access below-grade foundations.

Human error is often the leading cause of ladder accidents. Here are some suggestions that a superintendent can include in a pre-task safety review to avoid mishaps:

  • Never use a ladder in any way other than the manufacturer’s intended use.
  • Never lengthen or alter a ladder in any way. Select the proper ladder length for the task at hand. It’s not safe to use a ladder that’s too long or too short. Be sure to follow safety standards required on ladder labels that indicate the highest standing level.
  • Never stand on the top cap, or the step below the top cap, due to a higher risk of losing your balance.
  • Never use the top three rungs of an extension ladder for climbing.
  • Always maintain 3 points of contact while using a ladder to maintain stability.
  • Never attempt to reach for something while on the ladder. It’s much safer to get off the ladder to move it and then climb back up to access the item without having to stretch too far.
  • Transport ladders properly. Ladders must be properly supported on ladder racks. The support points should be constructed of material such as wood or rubber-covered pipe to minimize the effects of vibration, chafing and road shock. Secure the ladder to each support point to greatly reduce the damaging effects of road shock.
  • Keep overhang beyond the support points of the rack to a minimum.
  • Ladder storage racks should have sufficient supporting points to avoid sagging, which can warp the ladder. Materials must not be placed on the ladder while in storage.

The hidden dangers in worn or damaged ladders

Crews must perform thorough inspections on each ladder before using them. If any damage is found, don’t use it. Be sure to find a qualified repair technician if you decide to repair the damage to the manufacturer’s specifications. Most of the time it’s best to just replace the ladder.

  • Examine the ladder’s feet. Most are covered with a slip-resistant material that must be evaluated and determined to be in good condition before each use.
  • Ladders exposed to excessive heat, like a fire, may have reduced strength.
  • Ladders exposed to corrosive substances such as acids or alkali materials may experience chemical corrosion and reduced strength.
  • Broken or bent ladders and ladders with missing or worn out parts should be taken out of service and marked (Dangerous – Do Not Use) until professionally repaired or destroyed.
  • No attempt should be made to repair a ladder with a defective side rail. Ladders with bent or broken side rails must be permanently taken out of service and destroyed.
  • In the event a ladder is discarded, it must be destroyed in such a manner as to render
    it useless.

Putting ladders in their place

Superintendents should review proper ladder placement procedures with each crew. Here are talking points to include in a safety talk:

  • Be sure to position a ladder on firm, level ground.
  • Ladders should never be placed in front of a door that is not locked, blocked or guarded.
  • Ladders must not be used on ice, snow or slippery surfaces, unless suitable means to prevent slipping are employed.
  • Ladders must never be placed upon other objects such as boxes, barrels, scaffolds or other unstable bases in an effort to obtain additional height.
  • Ladders must not be tied or fastened together with any other type of ladder to provide a longer length.


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