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Safety First! Let's Talk Ladders

Ladders are the best way to get up to where you need to be, but they are also the cause of thousands of falls and hundreds of deaths a year. A 2015 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that 20,000 worker injuries and 150 deaths were caused by ladder-related incidents. When you do anything often, it’s easy to get into a routine and fall into bad habits, but as those numbers show, when ladders are in the equation, you can’t afford to treat safety lightly. OSHA believes that 100% of ladder accidents are preventable, so this article will take a look at safety considerations recommended by OSHA to prevent ladder-related injuries. To see the full OSHA Portable Ladder Safety QuickCard™, click here.

The two most common ladders you will use are step ladders and extension ladders. These safety guidelines apply to both types.

Avoid Electrical Hazards

First and foremost, make sure you’re not setting yourself up to get electrocuted. Keep an eye out for overhead power lines or exposed energized equipment. Don’t EVER use a metal ladder (steel or aluminum) if you’ll be anywhere near wires. Fiberglass and wood are the safest materials for an electrician, although fiberglass is the more durable option. (These are also good tips to review with customers if you suspect they do lots of DIY home repairs).

Inspect Your Ladder

Make a habit of checking your ladder before setting it up to make sure it’s in good shape and working properly. Make sure locks on an extension ladder are engaged. If your ladder does fall, do a thorough inspection afterward to make sure it wasn’t damaged.

Look at Your Surroundings

There are a few things you need to look for before you set your ladder up.

  • Ensure a stable surface: Check the ground before you place your ladder and make adjustments if you need to. Ensure that the spot where the ladder goes is level and free of rocks, holes, or cords. Brush away sand or sawdust and dry any water or oil that could cause slipping.

  • Check for hazards around you. If people are walking or using equipment in the area, set up a barrier around the base. If you’re close to a door, make sure it is locked or has a sign indicating to anyone who could open it that there’s a ladder nearby.

Don’t Ignore Physics

Falls from ladders most often happen because an imbalance makes the ladder tip over. Keep it stable and balanced by following these guidelines.

  • Don’t ever use the top rung unless it’s designed as a step.

  • Don’t lean out to the side when you’re on the ladder. It’s a hassle, but it’s much safer to move the ladder where you need it to be. If you can’t get a ladder in the right spot for some reason, have someone hold it or secure it at the bottom (and top for extension ladders) before leaning out.

  • Watch the angle of extension ladders. The ladder should be placed so that the distance from the feet to the vertical surface where the ladder rests is one-fourth of the ladder’s length. So if your ladder is eight feet long, it should be placed at least two feet from the wall or building it’s resting against. A twelve-foot ladder should be three feet from the wall, and so on.

It’s not hard to prevent ladder accidents, it just takes some forethought. Follow these guidelines and stay safe!


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