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Take a Step Toward Ladder Safety

Ladder climbing safety

Keeping workers safe on and around ladders starts with you.

Few professionals who have spent any amount of time in industrial settings need reminding of the dangers presented by ladders. Why are we doing so? Because ladder safety is a topic worth repeating.

Naturally their value as a workplace tool can’t be overstated. But we know that, all too often, familiarity breeds contempt. The common presence of the ladder often leads to people forgetting just how dangerous they can be.

Falls from heights, including ladders, is one of the most-cited of all OSHA violations.. According to OSHA, ladder falls, whether step, straight, combination or extension, account for 20% of fatal and lost workday injuries.

The saddest part is that most of these incidents would likely have been prevented entirely had OSHA standards for ladder safety been complied with.

If you make ladders available for your employees to use, you are responsible and legally required to adhere to ladder training and safety standards. Not only does following OSHA ladder standards ensure you remain in compliance, these well-designed safety practices help you protect workers and prevent costly injuries.

OSHA Regulations

OSHA general industry requirements for using ladders are covered under 1910.23 – Walking-Working Surfaces: Ladders. They stipulate structural requirements and usage restrictions for various types of ladders and include guidelines on ladder setup and usage and restrict unsafe behaviors, like attaching ladders together to reach a greater height.

Employee training requirements for ladder safety are also covered within 1910.30 Walking-Working Surfaces. If you’re an employer, it’s your responsibility to train your employees to use ladders safely. If an employee feels unsafe, they have the right to refuse work.  

OSHA requirements in a nutshell:

●       Use one! A step stool or ladder is required when attempting to reach or perform tasks overhead. Don’t step on chairs, boxes, bins or other objects.

●       Choose the right style, height, material and performance-duty rating required for the job (See below).

●       Inspect ladders before initial use and before each work shift: replace defective ladders.

●       Set up and use your ladder according to the manufacturer’s label.

●       Climb and balance safely.

●       Avoid hazards and misuse, like ascending a closed ladder.

●       Communicate ladder-related hazards, like damaged or defective equipment.

●       Train all employees on the above requirements.

Safety Training

OSHA regulations stipulate that you must train your employees to follow all safety regulations. Training in an employee’s first/primary language is recommended, with initial and as-needed training to follow.

Your employees must know how to choose, inspect, climb and work from a ladder safely. Specifically, you must ensure that training is provided by a qualified individual and covers:

●       the nature of fall hazards and how to recognize them

●       how to minimize fall hazards

●       when and how to use fall protection systems, including inspection and maintenance of those systems

●       the nature of ladder (equipment) hazards, and how to recognize and minimize them

New employee orientations should include ladder safety training if ladders are present in the workplace. You are also responsible for retraining employees to keep the information fresh and top-of-mind.

OSHA stresses retraining after workplace changes that affect the relevance of past training, after standards change or are updated, and when an employee(s) demonstrates inadequacy in safety practices.

If you require safety practices beyond OSHA standards, such as fall protection when working on portable ladders, train every employee on the proper protocol for setting up and using personal fall protection in every required circumstance.

While OSHA will not cite you for violating your own written safety practices, if you neglect training your employees in such a way that they are seriously injured, you may still be cited for violating the General Duty Clause.

Matching Ladders to Tasks

Safe ladder usage starts with choosing one that’s best suited to the job. OSHA regulations list a few types, including step stools, stepladders, rolling ladders, extension ladders and self-supporting ladders. These standards are meant to apply to any portable ladder used by your employees, even when not expressly listed.

When choosing the correct ladder for the job, read the label carefully. Also consider ladder type, height and duty rating. Metal ladders should never be used for electrical work or near uninsulated electrical conductors.

Remember, workers who don’t have access to the right ladder for the job, or are asked to operate a ladder incorrectly, are allowed under OSHA laws to refuse to work until they can perform their duties safely. So it really does make sense to have the right kind of ladders available at all times.

Ladder Types

The most common ladder styles found in workplace settings are listed below:

●     Step StoolsStep Stools are used when a small amount of height is needed to reach shelves or overhead storage. According to OSHA standards, step stools must be sturdy and able to support the intended weight of the task. Stools over 24 inches high require a handrail.

●     Self-Supporting (Step) Ladders – Often A-shaped, Stepladders stand up on their own and come in a wide variety of materials and duty ratings. Height ranges from 6 to 30 feet. Self-supporting ladders must have a spreader or locking device that is locked before using. Never use a self-supporting ladder in the closed position.

●     Straight Ladders – Lean a Straight Ladder onto a structure to reach an upper level. When using a straight ladder, the top of the ladder must exceed the height of the structure it’s leaned on by three feet and it must be leaned at a 75-degree angle—i.e. 1:4 or 1 foot out from the wall for every four feet of ladder height. Height is typically between 10 to 30 feet.

●     Extension LaddersExtension Ladders, available in 16 to 60-foot heights, are straight ladders with a base section and a fly section that can be adjusted for various heights.

●     Platform LaddersPlatform Ladders are step ladders with a platform area and a top handrail. The same guidelines apply for A-frame ladders.

●     Rolling Ladders – Also known as rolling staircases, Rolling Ladders are commonly used in stock-picking scenarios such as in warehouses, or to reach equipment of a specific height, such as the feed bin on a production machine in a factory. No ladder with wheels should ever be rolled while carrying an occupant.

Ladder Height Regulations

Compliant ladders allow workers to complete their task while remaining securely balanced. Never allow anyone to stand on the top two rungs of a step ladder or above four rungs from the top on an extension ladder.

An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend at least 3 feet above the point of support, while a ladder extended to a height of 48-ft or longer requires a 6-ft extension beyond the eave.

A 6-foot step ladder has an average reach of 10 feet, an 8-foot ladder has a 12-foot reach, and so on. Don’t use the top cap of an A-frame ladder as a step. Instead, use a taller ladder.

Never climb an extension ladder while hand-carrying tools or material; climb first then hoist tools up using a rope or block and tackle.

Ladder Duty Ratings

Use the ladder duty rating listed on the label to determine whether the ladder is stable and strong enough to support the job.

The ladder duty ratings and weight limits are:

●       Type 3: Maximum weight of 200 lbs., light-duty

●       Type 2: Maximum weight of 225 lbs., medium-duty for painters, handymen, and other simple projects

●       Type 1: maximum weight of 250 lbs., heavy-duty for professional and/or industrial use with lightweight tools and equipment

●       Type 1A: maximum weight of 300 lbs., extra heavy-duty for professional and/or industrial use with medium-weight tools and equipment

●       Type 1AA: maximum weight of 375 lbs., super duty for heavy jobs

Make sure workers understand they must take the weight of their clothing and PPE into account, as well as the weight of any tools and materials they will be using. When used off paved areas, the ladder’s feet should enable it to hold the weight of the worker and their supplies without slipping or digging too far into the ground.

Weights of commonly used tools and materials:

●       5-gallon bucket of paint – 60 lbs.

●       Portable sprayer – 20 lbs.

●       Ceiling fan – 30 lbs.

●       Toolbox – 35 lbs.

●       Bundle of shingles – 70-100 lbs.

●       A sheet of plywood – 80 lbs.

Correct Ladder Set-Up

To set up a ladder correctly, inspect for damage such as bends, dents, sharp edges, grease/slickness, loose rungs/bolts, damaged footpads and stuck or damaged hinge spreaders. Use OSHA’s Ladder Safety Checklist to ensure your reviews are thorough and accurate every time. If there is paint or another material making a complete inspection impossible, don’t use the ladder.

Once it’s been determined the ladder is in good working condition, inspect the working surface to determine that it’s free of debris that could affect its stability. Also, inspect the area for electrical hazards.

If the surface is clear and the ladder’s feet are appropriate for the surface-type, install your stand-alone ladder by locking the hinges, or leaning your straight ladder according to the 4-1 rule.

4-1 Rule for Ladders

The base of the ladder should extend 1 foot for every 4 feet of height between the working surface and the point of contact. When done correctly, the ladder will meet the ground at a 75-degree angle.

Your employer should provide ladder setup training during your orientation and with the introduction of new ladder-related hazards, for example, new ladder types or new working surfaces.

Safe Climb and Balance

Ascend properly by maintaining three points of contact with the ladder at all times. Face the ladder, climb hand over hand, and stay between the rails. Don’t carry tools or other supplies while climbing. Instead, hoist tools using a pulley system or electric hoist.

Leaning too far away from the center of the ladder can cause falls. Keep the waist between the rails to ensure your ladder’s center of gravity stays where it should.

Hazards and Misuse

Take fall hazards seriously when using a ladder. Think proactively and prevent contact with anything that could affect the stability of your ladder, such as slippery surfaces, other people, and vehicles.

If a ladder is set up in a high traffic area, such as a doorway or aisle, secure it and/or set up a barricade around it to prevent accidental contact.

Don’t try to gain additional height by stacking ladders on other items, such as boxes, truck beds, or other ladders. Instead, request a different type or length of ladder. Do not attempt to perform the task until an adequate ladder or other equipment, such as a scaffold or scissor-lift, is provided.

Fall Protection

Although personal fall protection is required for workers exposed to a potential fall from an unprotected edge of six feet or more, fall protection is not required for workers on fixed ladders 24 feet or less, or on portable ladders of any height.

However, providing additional protection is encouraged. Safeguards, like a fall arrest system anchored above the worker, can stop falls from a height of 6 feet and greater.

Tying off the top of an extension ladder and blocking its feet is also recommended.

Communicating Ladder Hazards

If you notice damage to a ladder during an inspection, immediately label the ladder according to its condition. If the ladder is not salvageable, destroy it immediately.

Safety Signs & Labels

The following ladder safety labels are valuable for communicating potential hazards:

●     Ladder Inspection Adhesive Labels or Tags – Record the dates and results of ladder safety inspections.

●     Danger Do Not Use Tags – Mark unsafe ladders immediately with a “Danger” tag so that no one uses them.

●     Max Capacity Adhesive Labels – For ladders without a manufacturer’s tag, communicate maximum weight capacity with a third party or self-made label.

Ensure that employees do not use ladders that have damaged or missing safety labels. Contact the manufacturer to replace the labels, or replace the ladder.

OSHA-Required In-Person Training

OSHA encourages training in as close to real-life experiences as possible. Make qualified persons available to demonstrate and assist employees as they practice proper ladder use.

Online and Video Ladder Safety Training

Digital ladder safety training can be used as a refresher and/or platform for quizzing your employees on proper ladder use.

Ladder Safety Meetings and Toolbox Talks

Ladder safety meetings and toolbox talks may or may not have the experiential component referenced above. Safesite has a number of meeting notes in its safety meeting library, including:

●       Choose the Right Ladder

●       Extension Ladder Safety

●       Step Ladder Safety

Whatever training method is used, be sure to record the date of training, employee name, topics covered and any completed quizzes or tests.

Maintain these records for the duration of the worker’s employment plus three years.

In Summary

OSHA ladder safety rules are designed to help you protect your employees by preventing falls and other injuries. These regulations stipulate how to choose and use various types of ladders and require employees to receive on-the-job training in ladder safety.

To improve your ladder safety program, review our top OSHA safety checklists or download Safesite on iOS or Android to browse the complete template library. In addition, feel free to contact our Dedicated Account Advisors are available to help you choose the right ladders and accessories for your projects.

Other Resources

Learn more about what you can do to ensure ladder safety from these sources:

●     American Ladder Institute

●     OSHA Portable Ladder Quick Card

●     Safesite Ladder Safety Checklists


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