Each year, about 50 construction workers are killed by falls from ladders. If 50 die, imagine how many are disabled and injured. Twice as many falls occur stepping down, as compared to going up ladders. The main cause of falls from straight and extension ladders is sliding of the ladder base. For stepladders, the main cause is tipping sideways.
Choose the right ladder for the job and use the ladder as outlined by the manufacturer. Choose the right length and type of ladder. Many companies use type 1A fiberglass ladders, which are rated for 300 lbs. If the combined weight of a person and tools is more than 300 lbs., you should use a type 1AA ladder rated for 375 lbs.
Keep all types of ladders and tools at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines. Set ladders on firm, level ground and use ladder levelers on uneven ground. (By ladder leveler, we mean manufacturer approved, not a rock or piece of wood under the foot.)
Secure the ladder - tie it down, use slip-resistant feet, or have someone hold it in place. Keep the area around the top and bottom of a ladder clear. In passageways, doorways, or where traffic of other activities can occur, secure the ladder and block off the area.
Do not set a ladder on a scaffold, box or other object. For stepladders, all four legs must be on solid, level ground and the spreaders must be locked, fully open. Never lean a stepladder against a wall. Straight and extension ladders should be placed at a four to one angle, secured or tied-off, with both rails resting evenly on the resting spot. Rails should extend at least 3 feet above the roof. This gives you a safer transition point.
Keep your body centered between the rails and climb with 3 points of contact at all times. Never climb, stand, sit, or straddle the top, or second to top, rung of any ladder. You should always face the ladder. Don’t turn around and work. You may need to use a different system.
Scissor-lifts and scaffolds are great alternatives to ladders. Whichever system you are using, make sure you have been trained and have a complete understanding of the safety requirements.
Ladders also need to be inspected regularly for visible defects. Check your ladders for damage before each use. If it is not safe, don’t use it! Tag it and send it in for repair or replacement. Look for cracked rails, bent rungs, missing rivets, and UV degradation.
SMACNA offers several resources to help contractors improve ladder safety programs including tool box talks and model fall protection programs. SMACNA members looking for resources to improve their fall protection programs should contact Mike McCullion, director of safety and health at 703-995-4027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.