Have you ever felt unsafe when using a ladder? You’re not alone. Ladders easily allow us to reach new heights and achieve tasks quickly. But quick and easy does not mean safe. It is common to get complacent when using a ladder, especially with everyday, on-the-job use. Each year around 500,000 people are injured while using a ladder. Ladders aren’t the most lethal tool we have in the workplace, but they can still cause serious injury, especially when used incorrectly for any task.
During National Ladder Safety Month (or any month, really), it’s important to remember a few ladder basics to avoid injuries to you and those around you.
1. Choosing Your Ladder
Ladders are manufactured for specific use. Accidents occur when a ladder designed for one use is used for an unintended purpose. If you are in a conductive environment like an electrical substation, choose a ladder with non-conductive material like fiberglass. Select a ladder with the correct height and weight rating for your needs. Remember, the weight of the ladder must withstand your weight, the weight of your clothing and PPE, plus any tools and materials. Finally, determine if you can use a leanable ladder such as an extension ladder, or a self-supporting ladder like a step or A-frame ladder.
2. Safety Before the First Step (Inspection and Set-Up)
Before using a ladder, it must always be inspected. Check the entire ladder for cracks, slippery substances, corrosion, missing parts, etc. If you find any damage, remove it from service. Inspect the area you are in as well. Do not set up the ladder on unstable ground, or near anything that could potentially knock over the ladder.
3. Safety While Climbing
Regardless of how many times you have climbed a ladder, the risk of a slip or fall is always present, even for the most experienced users. Begin by facing the ladder, always maintain 3 points of contact (this means two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand on the ladder while climbing) with a firm grip on the ladder. Keep your hands free by using a tool belt, a tag line, or a helper. Lastly, take your time. Take your time walking down the ladder, ensuring to step on every rung. Many injuries occur from missing one step.
4. Safety at the Top
Depending on the height, falls from a ladder can be fatal. 300 people a year die because of falls from ladders. To stay safe on a ladder, do not stand on the top two (or 3) rungs. Avoid sudden and jerky movements. Never lean or reach over the sides of a ladder, your belt buckle should always be inside the rails. If you can’t reach, stop what you are doing, move your ladder over, and then climb back up.
Ladders are an essential tool you’ll use both at work and home. But they can also be dangerous if you are not educated properly. At RFI, employees are trained on ladder safety upon hire. Our Ladder Safety Policy includes guidelines on how to select, use, inspect, and maintain ladders to keep our team safe from falls. This equipment is also inspected during monthly facility inspections, being careful to note the inspection tags. A variety of ladders are supplied to the foremen trucks and job trailers on our projects to ensure they select the right type of ladder for the task. During site inspections, the Safety Department observes employees ensuring correct ladder usage. Follow the right tips, tricks, and techniques, you are sure to reach new heights of safety!