Ladder Safety 101

One of the largest injury risks in construction is falls from elevated surfaces. While there are many surfaces that pose fall risk, ladders are particularly dangerous. In fact, the OSHA construction standard for ladders (1926.1053) has time and again been ranked as the third most cited violation in the construction industry.

Before you use a ladder, make sure to review the following four requirements to ensure you’re as using it as safely as possible:  

  • Loads

On worksites, there are generally two types of ladders: foldout (self-supporting) and portable leaning (non-self-supporting). In both cases, ladders should be able to support at least four times the maximum intended load. For extra-heavy-duty metal or plastic ladders, that number changes to 3.3 times the maximum intended load. Given this rule, only one person at a time is permitted to be on a ladder. One exception is a trestle ladder, which is designed to have two people climb on it at the same time.

  • Angle

When using portable leaning (non-self-supporting) ladders, you must make sure that they are positioned at a specific angle to ensure their stability. For most ladders, this means the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder should be about one quarter of the ladder’s total working length. For any job-made wooden ladders, that angle should equal about one eighth. Following this rule of thumb will minimize the strain of the load on the ladder joints that may have weak spots – particularly in the case of commercially manufactured ladders.

  • Rungs

Pay close attention to the ladder’s rungs, cleats, or steps to make sure that they are parallel, level, and uniformly spaced. Rungs should be spaced about 10 to 14 inches apart on a standard ladder. On a trestle ladder, they should 8 to 18 inches on the base, and 6 to 12 inches on the extension section. Each rung must be skid-resistant, and properly shaped to prevent slipping.

  • Slipping Potential

When a ladder is set up for use, it should be placed on firm, level ground without any type of slippery conditions present. Make sure to keep all oil, grease, wet paint, and other slippery potential hazards as far from the ladder rungs as possible. Additionally, wearing clean, slip-resistant shoes with thick, heavy soles is a must. Leather soles are not to be worn, as they are not sufficiently slip resistant.