By: Richard E. Daniels, P.E.
The American Ladder Institute has declared that March is National Ladder Safety Month. They are “the only movement dedicated exclusively to the promotion of ladder safety, at home and at work.” The American Ladder Institute reports, “Each year, tens of thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths are caused by ladder misuse. By providing critical guidelines and raising awareness on safe use, we can help decrease these numbers.” Safety tips for ladder use are published by The American Ladder Institute, and ladder regulations for the workplace are promulgated by OSHA. However, just about everyone uses a portable ladder at some time, and ladder safety is important to each one of us.
Common varieties of ladders include the following:
Stepladder: A self-supporting portable ladder that is non-adjustable in length, with flat steps and a hinged design for ease of storage.
Extension Ladder: A non-self-supporting portable ladder that is adjustable in length. It consists of two or more sections that travel in guides or brackets arranged so as to permit length adjustment.
Step Stool Ladder: A self-supporting, often foldable, portable ladder that is non-adjustable in length, 32-inches or less in overall size, with flat steps and without a pail shelf. It is designed so that the ladder Top Cap as well as all steps can be climbed on. The side rails may continue above the top cap.
Articulated Ladder: A portable ladder with one or more pairs of locking hinges which allow the ladder to be set up in several configurations such as a single or extension ladder, with or without a stand-off, a stepladder, a trestle ladder, scaffold or worktable. Each pair of articulated joints in the ladder can be locked in one or more positions to accommodate the various configurations. The locking positions of the hinges allow set-up at the proper angles to accommodate each configuration that the manufacturer has designated.
Combination Ladder: A portable ladder capable of being used as stepladder, or as a single or extension ladder. It may also be capable of being used as a trestle ladder or as a stairwell ladder. Its components may be used as single ladders. This type of ladder can be designed with either steps or rungs, and the inclusion of a pail shelf is optional. When steps are present, the ladder should be erected so that the step surfaces are horizontal. Either spreaders or a locking device can be used to securely hold the front and rear sections in the open position.
Ladders are typically intended for use by one person and are labeled with Duty Ratings:
Type IAA (Extra Heavy Duty) 375 pounds
Type IA (Extra Heavy Duty) 300 pounds
Type I (Heavy Duty) 250 pounds
Type II (Medium Duty) 225 pounds
Type III (Light Duty) 200 pounds
All ladders are required to be able to support at least four times the maximum intended load (duty rating), except for Type IAA and IA which are required to support 3.3 times.
Nevertheless, many ladder accidents are caused by improper use of the ladder. The American Ladder Institute reports that –
- 500,000+ people are treated each year for ladder-related falls.
- 300+ deaths occur from ladder falls each year.
- $24B annual cost to the U.S. for work loss, medical, legal, liability, and pain and suffering expenses from ladder falls.
Here is some information for safe ladder use.
- Read and follow all labels/markings on the ladder.
- Only use ladders for the purpose for which they were designed.
- Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks, or hooks) for their designed purposes.
- Always inspect the ladder before using it. If the ladder is damaged, don’t use it. Structural defects can include broken or missing rungs, cleats, or steps, broken or split rails, corroded components, or other faulty or defective components. In the workplace, OSHA requires that this inspection be performed by a competent person.
- Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
- Do not load a ladder beyond the manufacturer’s rated capacity. This load rating includes the total weight the ladder is supporting, including the weight of tools and equipment.
- Do not use a self-supporting (e.g., step ladder) as a single ladder or in a partially closed position.
- Do not use the top rung/step of a ladder as a step/rung unless it was designed for that purpose.
- Do not place a ladder on boxes, barrels, or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.
- Do not use cross-bracing on the rear section of stepladders for climbing unless the ladder is designed and provided with steps for climbing on both front and rear sections.
- When using a portable ladder for access to an upper landing surface, extend the ladder side rails at least 3 feet above the upper landing surface to which the ladder is used to gain access.
- Always use a non-self-supporting ladder (e.g., extension ladder or single ladder) at an angle such that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is approximately one-quarter of the working length of the ladder (the distance along the ladder between the foot and the top support).
- Be sure that all locks on an extension ladder are properly engaged.
- Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface unless it has been secured (top and bottom) to prevent displacement.
- Do not use a ladder on slippery surfaces unless secured or provided with slip-resistant feet to prevent accidental displacement. Slip-resistant feet shall not be used as a substitute for care in placing, lashing, or holding a ladder that is used upon slippery surfaces including, but not limited to, flat metal or concrete surfaces that are constructed so they cannot be prevented from becoming slippery.
- If you must place a ladder in a location where they can be displaced by workplace activities or traffic, secure the ladder to prevent accidental displacement, or barricade the area to keep other activities or traffic away from the ladder.
- Avoid electrical hazards. Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.
- Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps, or feet.
- When ascending or descending a ladder, face the ladder.
- Always maintain a 3-point (two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing. Keep your body near the middle of the step.
- Do not carry any object or load that could cause you to lose balance and fall.
Here are some examples of ladder misuse that have caused an accident:
- The user fell when the ladder kicked out as the user repositioned himself to come down the ladder because the top was not tied off at all. The user either leaned too far and/or jostled the ladder or the ground was slippery.
- The user fell when the ladder fell because the foot slipped off of a piece of dimensional lumber that was used to create support of the ladder feet.
- The user fell when the ladder fell because the Romex cable used to tie off the top of the ladder failed. Romex was not effective as a means to secure the ladder.
- The user fell when he stepped onto the top of the stepladder and the ladder tipped over. The stepladder was too short for the user to safely reach his work area.
- The user fell when the ladder collapsed because the siderail buckled. This instability was caused by the failure of a step/siderail riveted connection due to long-term wear and tear.
- The user fell when the ladder shifted because the siderail was supported on a plywood hole cover that failed and allowed the leg to drop into the hole below the cover.
- The user fell when he reached too far to the side and the ladder rotated away from him in the opposite direction.
- The user fell when he misjudged where he was on the ladder, miss-stepped, and did not have a sufficient two-handed grip on the rungs to allow recovery.
There is a lot to consider when using a ladder. Before you use a ladder, make sure that you are using it safely. When choosing an expert, be certain they are familiar with the product and its intended use. Consulting Engineers & Scientists has been retained in a number of ladder fall cases and can assist you with yours.