Injuries and fatalities associated with working on and around portable and fixed ladders are a major workplace safety problem. Often, these injuries are so severe they require time away from work. OSHA/VOSH has developed specific regulations to address ladder safety and to help prevent injuries.
Types of Ladders
A ladder or stairway is required when there is an area with a 19-inch or greater break in elevation and no other way to safely navigate the different levels. Ladders may be constructed of wood, aluminum, metal or fiberglass and are available in a variety of different types and sizes including:
- Portable ladders (Non-self-supporting ladders and self-supporting)
- Fixed ladders
Care should be taken to ensure the appropriate ladder is selected for the task at hand.
Ladder Safety Regulations
Regulatory information pertaining to ladder safety can be found from a variety of sources. OSHA/VOSH regulatory documents include:
- OSHA/VOSH 29 CFR 1910.25, Portable wood ladders
- OSHA/VOSH 29 CFR 1910.26, Portable metal ladders
- OSHA/VOSH 29 CFR 1910.27, Fixed ladders
- OSHA/VOSH 29 CFR 1926.1053, Ladders (construction)
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) also has standards pertaining to ladders depending on the construction material of the ladder. ANSI also identifies duty ratings that identify parameters for safe ladder use.
- ANSI A14.1, Wood ladders
- ANSI A14.2, Metal ladders
- ANSI A14.3 Fixed ladders
- ANSI A14.5 Fiberglass ladders
- ANSI A14.7 Steel ladders
- IAA-375 lbs (super heavy duty)
- IA- 300 lbs (extra heavy duty)
- I-250 lbs (heavy duty industrial)
- II-225 lbs (medium duty commercial)
- III-200 lbs (light duty household)
Always conduct a visual inspection for defects or other hazards before using a ladder. If repairs must be made, they must “restore the ladder to a condition meeting its original design criteria before the ladder is returned to use”1
Criteria to consider for ladder inspections include:
- Slip hazards on the ladder components (grease, oil, etc)
- Uniform spacing of ladder rungs, cleats, steps
- Missing rungs, cleats, or steps
- Corrosion on the ladder or any components
- Splinters, exterior damage, or defects
- Broken, bent, or split side rails
- Opaque coatings on wooden ladders (except for the minimally necessary amount, usually labels or identification markings placed only on the face of one side)
- Properly working hardware including metal spreaders/locking devices, bolts, rivets
- Fraying or worn ropes
- Legible ANSI rating and manufacturer instruction labels
- Proper weight rating for the job or task
Consider the following tips when setting up, working on or around, and storing all types of ladders:
Stepladders and Portable Ladders (self-supporting):
- Do not sit or stand on the top step or top surface.
- Do not use both sides of the ladder unless it was designed to be used in that manner.
- Make sure the locking/spreader mechanism is in place and working properly.
Portable Ladders (non-self-supporting):
- Make sure the rungs and steps are designed or coated to be slip-resistant.
- If used as a means to access another surface, the ladder must extend three feet above the surface being accessed and be secured. If that is not possible, secure the ladder and provide a device to help employees safely access and exit the ladder.
- For every four feet of ladder height, make sure the base of the ladder is placed one foot from the surface it rests on (four to one rule).
- Do not move the ladder while it is extended.
- Make sure the ladder sections are locked before using.
- Do not extend the ladder beyond its designed stopping point.
- Make sure ladders over 24 feet have safety devices, self-retracting lifelines and rest platforms or a safety cage.
- Make sure the ladder can support the added weight of any ice buildup.
- Make sure the safety devices are tested and meet the 500-pound, 18-inch drop test requirement. This means that safety devices shall be capable of withstanding, without failure, a 500 pound weight dropped from a height of 18-inches.
Metal or Aluminum Ladders:
- Do not use when performing work on electrical components or near overhead wires to prevent a shock or electrocution.
- Check for required slip-resistant feet.
- Check for rough or sharp edges and burrs in the metal.
General rules of thumb for all ladder types:
- Ensure all self-supporting and non-self-supporting ladders are used on level, clean surfaces void of slip hazards.
- Ensure the correct height is selected for the task and never connect shorter ladders together to obtain the desired length.
- Ensure fall protection is provided if the employee will be working on a portable ladder located on a platform six feet or more above the ground.
- To ensure hands are free when ascending and descending the ladder, make sure employees use a tool belt or utilize some other means to transport tools to the work area and always maintain three points of contact.
- Never skip steps while ascending or descending the ladder.
- While on the ladder, keep the body centered between the inside rails and avoid leaning outside of that area.
- If work must be performed on a ladder in front of a door, make sure the door is secured or guarded to avoid accidentally striking the ladder with the door, potentially causing a fall.
- Be sure to store ladders on ladder hooks or safely on their side and out of the way to prevent them from sliding into the walking/working area and causing a trip hazard.
- Develop guidelines for employees to follow if defects are identified while inspecting ladders. Defective ladders should be labeled and secured (locked) to prevent unauthorized use.
Taking a few moments to review regulatory information, perform pre-use inspections, and apply the necessary ladder safety tips may prevent serious injury to employees working on ladders or using them to access elevated surfaces.
Remember to “take ladder safety one step at a time”2.
1Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Stairways and Ladders: A Guide to OSHA Rules. Retrieved December 26, 2007 from, http://www.com.edu.
2 Smith, Tim. (6/25/99). Safety Slogans Poster. Retrieved January 29, 2008 from, http://siri.uvm.edu.
Adams Rental and Sales. (n.d.). Ladder Safety Rules and Operating Instructions. Retrieved December 27, 2007 from http://www.rentrain.com/adams-rental/ladder.php.
Consumer Product Safety Commission. (n.d.). CPSC Offers Safety Tips to Prevent Ladder Injuries. Retrieved December 26, 2007 from http://cpsc.gov.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Stairways and Ladders: A Guide to OSHA Rules. Retrieved December 26, 2007 from, http://www.com.edu.
Parlay International. (n.d.). Keys to Ladder Safety. Retrieved December 26, 2007 from http://www.selectiveinsurance.com/psClient/PDF/LossControl/ConstructionSafety_english/2290_054.pdf.
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