Whether you’re Jeff Hardy or Joe Everyman, you’ve likely climbed a ladder. While harnesses are perhaps the most ubiquitous piece of equipment found when working at height on a construction site, ladders are one of the most recognizable pieces of construction equipment on earth.
But, as is the case with most things, the dangers involved with their use in the context of a job site is heightened to a level which most non-workers are not familiar. According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, each year over 4,000 workers are injured falling off ladders seriously enough to miss work and for several dozen others, those falls are fatal. To prevent this worst-case scenario, proper preparation is required.
INSPECT AND POSITION YOUR LADDER PROPERLY BEFORE EVERY USE
Like each piece of equipment used on a job site, proper inspection before every use is key in maintaining a safe work environment. The Center for Construction Research and Training recommends that, for ladders, this should involve an inspection of the rails, rungs, feet and spreaders or rung locks every time a ladder is used. If there is an issue, the ladder should be clearly marked as non-usable and the worker should continue their task on a different piece of equipment. The ladder’s duty rating (see chart below) should also be confirmed to be able to accommodate both you and your toolbelt before you make your climb.
Inspection isn’t just about the ladder itself, however. As anyone who has ever attempted to clean their gutters at home knows all-too-well the importance of ladder positioning. Avoiding overreach by properly gauge the distance between your ladder, while also maintaining level footing for your ladder. For extension ladders, extra precaution – like tying off the ladder and setting the base of the ladder away from the building one foot for every four feet of height.
Once you’ve inspected and securely positioned your ladder, it’s finally the moment you’ve been waiting for
TIME TO CLIMB!
Or, okay, not exactly time to climb.
Immediately before making your way up, have a co-worker hold the ladder steady as you climb, maintaining three-point contact with the ladder at all times, whether it be two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand, facing towards the ladder the entire time.
As you begin to reach the top of the ladder, knowing where to stop can be just as important as ladder positioning: Never use the top step/rung of a ladder unless it was designed for that purpose, or stand on the top three rungs of a straight, single, or extension ladder. All of these ignore the intended design of the given ladder, putting you and your work at risk.
Learn more about ladder safety by registering for our 30-Hour OSHA Construction Health and Safety Program
Once there, you can use a rope to haul materials to where you are, as attempting to carry them up with you can be extremely dangerous, not just for you but the co-worker who was nice enough to hold the ladder steady. You’ll also want to ask for the same assistance from them on the way down, so not dropping building materials on the way up isn’t just good safety sense, it’s being a good co-worker.