Taking the Right Steps

Ladders are pretty common in any workplace. Regardless the type of work your district does, or you do specifically. Hanging a picture frame? Changing a light bulb? Putting out a fire on a high building? A ladder can be useful and even essential in all of these cases, but it can also be deadly when not used correctly. A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “falls remain a leading cause of unintentional injury mortality nationwide, and 43% of fatal falls in the last decade have involved a ladder.” The causes of these falls can vary, but many of them have to do with employees not utilizing ladders safely or from using a damaged ladder.

There are many different types of ladders on the market that vary in size, shape, and capability. It is important to educate yourself on what is available and take your intended purpose for the ladder into account. This also means selecting ladders based on their construction depending on what their intended use is. Ladders can be made of fiberglass, aluminum, or wood and each material has its pros and cons. For example, aluminum ladders should never be used around anything electrical while wood ladders tend to damage easily.

There are also step ladders, extension ladders, and some innovative combination ladders that can be set up as a step ladder or spread open to work like an extension ladder. Whichever ladder you decide on, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Before using your ladder, be sure to complete a proper inspection. Look at all of the rivets, bolts, rungs, and rails to make sure they are not missing, damaged, or cracked. If there is something damaged on the ladder, tag it as “out of service”. This also includes the stickers that line the sides of the ladders. The information on the sides of the ladder explain the proper setup, weight requirements, and other useful information.

There are several companies that can repair damaged ladders, so if you have an expensive ladder that has a few issues, look into getting it repaired by a professional before putting it back in service. It can be tempting to try and repair the ladder on your own, but in-house repair jobs could produce a weak spot in your ladder, causing it to collapse without warning.

Proper setup is next on your list. If you are using an A-frame, extension ladder, or stepladder, make sure that it is completely open and locked on firm, level ground. If the ladder wobbles or one of the feet is not touching the ground, either level the ground or reposition the ladder. Never put anything like a piece of wood or a rock under one of the feet to level it out; it should always be on firm, level ground.

Another safety consideration is proper angling. A proper 4:1 ratio is the correct angle, and a simple way of testing this is by placing your feet at the base of the ladder and putting your arms in front of you. If the tips of your fingers are touching the ladder, then you have roughly a 4:1 ratio. If you are working alone, then you should tie off the top and the bottom of the ladder to prevent it from falling over or kicking out while in use.

While using the ladder, maintain three points of contact at all times. This means that you should not be carrying anything in your hands while climbing up a ladder. Utilize a bucket and hook it to your belt, or have a rope ready to bring your material up after you climb the ladder. When climbing the ladder, you should always face it and stay centered while climbing and working. A good best practice is to keep your belt buckle between the ladder rails. If you need to access an area that requires you to reach outside of the rails, then you should get off of the ladder and reposition it.

Don’t think of ladders as your only option when trying to access work areas. There are a lot of other options that might be safer. If you are working in an area for an extended period of time, it might be a good idea to set up scaffolding. Different types of scaffolding can be set on wheel casters so they are mobile and easy to move. There are also other options like aerial man lifts or scissor lifts. These would be safer options since you would be working from a solid platform in lieu of holding onto a ladder.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed a useful free mobile application called “Ladder Safety” that helps to choose the right ladder for your task, the required inspection, setup, its proper use, and the appropriate accessories for the task. One of the most useful tools within the app is the measuring tool, which utilizes your phone’s gyroscope and accelerometer to assist with proper angles and levels of your ladder. It tells you if your ladder is too steep, too shallow, or just right. You can download the iOS version of the app here, or the Android version here.

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