By Evan Gurley
Working on and around ladders is hazardous by nature, and using them improperly makes them an even riskier prospect. A glance at Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) stats tells us there are 24,882 injuries and as many as 36 fatalities per year due to falls on stairways and ladders used in the construction industry. In most of these cases, the ladders were either used incorrectly or were defective in some way, or both.
All precast plants use fixed and portable ladders, yet not all plants adhere to safe ladder practices. Employers are responsible for training their employees to recognize and minimize hazards related to ladders and stairways. Employers must ensure that each employee is trained by a competent person in accordance with applicable safety and health standards.
Here are some pointers that apply to all fixed and portable ladders, including those built at the job site:
- Maintain ladders free of oil, grease and other slipping hazards.
- Do not load ladders beyond their maximum intended load nor beyond their manufacturer’s rated capacity (a safety factor of 4 is standard).
- Use ladders only for their designed purpose.
- Use ladders only on stable and level surfaces unless secured to prevent accidental movement.
- Do not use ladders on slippery surfaces unless secured or provided with slip-resistant feet to prevent accidental movement.
- Keep areas clear around the top and bottom of ladders.
- Do not move, shift or extend ladders while in use.
- Use ladders equipped with nonconductive side rails if the worker or the ladder could contact exposed energized electrical equipment.
- Face the ladder when moving up or down.
- Use at least one hand to grasp the ladder when climbing.
- Do not carry objects or loads.
- Rungs, cleats and steps must be spaced at least 10 in. apart but no more than 14 in. apart.
- Ladders must not be tied or fastened together to create longer sections unless they are specifically designed for such use.
- Do not use single-rail ladders.
- Use extension ladders at an angle where the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is approximately one-fourth the working length of the ladder.
When using specific types of ladders, follow these practices:
- Do not use the top or top step as a step.
- Do not use cross bracing on the rear section for climbing unless they are designed for this.
- Metal spreader or locking devices must be provided to hold the front and back sections in an open position.
- The clear distance between side rails must be at least 11.5 in.
- Metal rungs and steps must be corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid resistant material or treated to minimize slipping.
- When used to access an upper landing surface, the side rails must extend at least 3 ft above the upper landing surface.
- When a 3-ft extension is not possible, the ladder must be secured and have a grasping device such as a grab rail to assist workers in mounting and dismounting the ladder.
- If the total length of the climb is at least 24 ft, the ladder must be equipped with safety devices.
- Individual rung/step ladders must extend at least 42 in. above an access level or landing platform. This can either be a continuation of the ladder as horizontal grab bars or vertical grab bars with the same lateral spacing as the ladder’s legs.
- Each step or rung must be able to support a load of at least 250 lbs applied in the middle of the step or rung.
- Rungs must be shaped to prevent slipping.
- Clearance between fixed ladder rungs, cleats and steps or any obstruction behind the ladder must be at least 7 in.
- The pitch must not be greater than 90 degrees from horizontal.
- Fixed and portable ladders with structural defects, such as broken or missing rungs, must immediately be marked as defective or tagged with “Do Not Use” or similar language and withdrawn from service until repaired.
- Repairs must restore the ladder to its original design criteria before using it.
For more information on ladder safety, consult OSHA 29 CFR 1926.1050 through 1060 or applicable Canadian standards.
Evan Gurley is a technical services engineer with NPCA.