Ladders: Portable Hazards

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Ladders: Portable Hazards

THINK OF STEPLADDERS AND EXTENSION LADDERS as portable hazards. True, ladders are perfectly safe when they’re used by “trained professionals” using the “proper procedures” but there’s something about ladders that invites people who are not trained professionals to laugh at the notion that you need training to use a ladder.

When you get right down to it (or right up to it, for that matter) ladders are handy tools for reaching places that were not designed to be reached, usually to do work that is not supposed to be done from a ladder. Also, think of ladders as a handy way to reach hazards that were thought to be safely “guarded” by distance and inaccessibility.

Ladders are implicated in a variety of accidents involving not only the obvious falls from height but also electrical contacts and contact with energized systems.

Statistics on lost-time injuries list approximately 1,500 accidents per year in Canada involving ladders. The highest number are in construction, manufacturing was a close second followed by and transportation. The number of non-work-related accidents involving ladders is thought to be much higher (almost everyone can tell a hair-raising ladder story or two).

Ways to Prevent Incidents When Using Ladders:

INSPECTION: Inspect every ladder before use. Look for cracks or rotted sections on wooden ladders, missing parts, loose connections, damage, and bending or broken welds on aluminum ladders. Check for deformation on all ladders. Don’t use any ladder that is defective in any way.

SLIPS: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S. reports that half of all ladder accidents involve the ladder slipping. Either the base of the ladder slips away from the structure it is standing against or the top of the ladder slides sideways.

To prevent this from happening:
• Inspect the ladder before use to make sure it has the appropriate safety feet – a non-slip insert or teeth that will grip in soil.
• Don’t use the ladder unless the base can be placed on a secure and level surface.
• Set up the ladder so that it makes a 75-degree angle, or a one-in-four slope (one foot out from the horizontal for every four feet up).
• Don’t use a ladder unless the top can be placed squarely against a secure and level surface.
• Make sure the ladder extends at least three feet above the top edge of the structure.
• Tie off the top of the ladder securely and/or have a helper at the bottom of the ladder, holding both sides and standing with one foot on the bottom rung.
• Don’t set up a ladder where it might get bumped (place barricades or helpers to alert other users of the area.)

PAINT: Never paint a wooden ladder or use one that has been painted. The paint could not only promote rotting (by trapping water in the wood) it also hides defects. Instead, treat wooden ladders with a clear wood preservative and protect them from the elements by storing them in a dry place for using it when you’re painting outside or inside by using interior painting ideas.

LADDER TYPE: There are different types of ladders, with different weight ratings. Type IA ladders (sometimes marked “extra heavy duty, industrial”) are rated for 300 pounds. Type 1 (heavy duty) are rated for 250 pounds. These are the types used in construction and industrial workplaces. Type II (or medium duty) and Type III (light duty) are rated for 225 and 200 pounds respectively.

FALLS: Use a ladder with non-slip rungs and make sure the rungs (as well as your footwear) are clear of mud, grease or other slippery things.
• Use “three-point contact” while you’re on the ladder: Always have two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot in contact with the ladder.
• Keep your body between the side rails of the ladder. Don’t reach out so far that you have to move your torso out from between the side rails.
• Don’t carry tools or supplies up a ladder. Use a tool belt or pull supplies (such as a paint can) up from the ground using a rope.
• Make sure a stepladder is fully extended and braced. Do not stand on the top three steps.

Use these tips and we can all reduce the number of incidents involving ladders. Email Ian Simpson should you have any more questions.