Incorrect: A missed bottom step can cause a fall. (Little Giant Ladder Systems photo)

The National Movement in Ladder Safety

New, safer designs will help prevent those accidents when we are in a hurry or forget the basic rules.

Why do ladder accidents happen? If a ladder is in good condition and is used properly, it will almost never be the cause of an accident. Then why are there so many accidents involving ladders? Statistics show that 500 workers will go to the emergency room each day because of a ladder-related injury. Ladders are tested at four times their rating, so if your ladder is a Type IA, 300-pounds-rated ladder, it would have been tested at 1,200 pounds. So why are there so many accidents? Part of the answer involves the two conditions listed in the opening sentence of this article: good condition and used properly.

Good Condition
A ladder in good condition will easily hold your weight and a lot more. If a ladder is dented, bent, cracked, or split, you don’t know how much weight it will hold. That's why it is so important to inspect your ladder before every use.

Besides checking the rungs and side rails for any damage, make sure you check the feet. The feet of a ladder are like the tire on your vehicle; they are made of soft material so they will grip the ground. Just as with the tire on your vehicle, if the tread wears down on your ladder feet, they need to be replaced.

If you're not sure of everything you need to look for in the inspection, there's an app for that. NIOSH has a free ladder safety app that has a section with a step-by-step ladder inspection.

Proper Use
Once you have inspected your ladder to make sure it is in good condition, there are three more recommendations for safe ladder use: choosing the right ladder for the job, proper set-up, and proper climbing.

When choosing a ladder, make sure it has the right weight rating for you plus the weight of your work clothes, boots, and tools. You would be surprised how much all your gear adds to your weight. Make sure you are using the right style of ladder. If you are climbing on the roof, you should be using an extension ladder. Never use an A-frame ladder closed and leaned against the wall.

Always use the right size ladder for the job. A common mistake is using a small ladder and standing on the top step or the top cap of the ladder. You should never stand above the second step from the top of a stepladder or the third rung from the top of an extension ladder. If you are working on or near electricity, you should use a fiberglass ladder. Fiberglass is non-conductive.

When setting your ladder up, you should do a site assessment first. Make sure there are no branches or power lines in your way first. Set your ladder up on firm level ground. This is harder than it sounds because the ground is almost never level.

Do not use bricks, boards, or rocks to level your ladder. There are several products available to safely level your ladder. If you don't have one of them, dig out the high side to level instead of building up the low side.

When climbing, always maintain three points of contact—this means do not carry an armful of materials while trying to climb the ladder. Always keep your body between the side rails of the ladder. If you can't reach something, climb down and move your ladder over. Most accidents that result in disability or fatality are caused by over-reaching.

Ladder Innovations
Making sure our ladders are in good condition and following proper set-up and climbing guidelines will greatly reduce the number of ladder-related accidents, but there is still more we can do. There are always people who haven’t been trained or those who are in a hurry and overlook one or more of the steps. (If telling someone the rules once was all you needed to do, cars wouldn’t have seat belts.)

So how can we make ladders safe, even if you forget to follow all the rules? We need to stop using Grandpa's ladder. Ladder design hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, and ladder-related accidents continue to increase. There are several innovations on the market today of which you might not be aware.

Lighter-Weight Ladders
New lightweight fiberglass reduces the torn rotator cuffs, high ankle sprains, herniated disks, and torn knee ligaments that are so common for workers. A lighter ladder also helps in proper set-up. And, most importantly, the user is happier at the end of the day because he didn't have to carry the old, heavy one.

The levelness of the ground is a big factor in tip-and-fall type accidents. Ladders with built-in levelers allow the users to quickly level their ladders to the surroundings and safely get to work.

Added Stability
We train people not to over-reach, but we know they do because we have the accident reports. So how do we protect somebody if they do over-reach? Adding outriggers to the bottom of the ladder can increase side tip stability more than 600 percent. If the user can’t get outside of the footprint of the ladder, he can't accidentally tip it.

Ladders with Guardrails Attached
If you are working at height or need to use both hands to do the job but don't have anything (or the right thing) to tie off to, then you need a guardrail. Ladders with engineered guardrail systems provide that added safety you need to work hands-free in any direction.

If your ladder is in good condition and you climb it properly, you can avoid a very painful and maybe life-changing accident; but Grandpa's ladder is too easily misused. There is a movement in the ladder industry to improve ladder safety through design. It is still important to inspect your ladder before every use and to follow the simple guidelines for set-up and climbing. But new, safer designs will help prevent those accidents when we are in a hurry or forget the basic rules.

Remember, ladders are safety equipment, so Climb Safe and Climb On.

National Ladder Safety Month 2017
The American Ladder Institute recently declared March 2017 as the first annual National Ladder Safety Month. National Ladder Safety Month will bring heightened awareness to the importance of the safe use of ladders through resources, training, and a national dialogue.

The goals of National Ladder Safety Month are to:

  • Increase the number of ladder safety training certificates issued by ALI
  • Increase the frequency that ladder safety training modules are viewed on
  • Lower the rankings of ladder-related safety citations on OSHA's yearly "Top 10 Citations List"
  • Decrease number of ladder-related injuries and fatalities
  • Increase the number of competent ladder inspector trainings
  • Increase the number of companies and individuals that inspect and properly dispose of old, damaged, or obsolete ladders

Check out for tips and programs you can use to raise awareness of ladder safety at your organization.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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