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Seven Considerations to Level Up Your Ladder Knowledge and Help Prevent Injuries

By: Chad D. Lingerfelt, Contributor

Using the right type of ladder for a specific task will ensure the safety of the worker. Image courtesy of WernerCo.

Time restraints and daily pressures can often lead to unsafe workplace practices. Investing in safety and following specific protocols is important for the company and everyone in the workplace – from employees in the manufacturing facilities, to distribution centers, to active jobsites.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, “there were 161 fatal work injuries from which ladders were the primary source in 2020[1].”

Because ladders are often a daily essential, it’s tempting for employees to not think twice about ladder use and the potential accidents that can happen. With the proper training and education, a serious accident can be prevented. The foundation of proper safety protocols begins with understanding how to correctly select the right ladder, only using the ladder as it was intended, and establishing a consistent and frequent inspection process before each use.

Before starting any new project, follow these seven steps to protect workers’ safety from any height.

  1. Consider the application & use

One of the first steps in choosing the right equipment is understanding the type of ladder that will be needed for the job. From working on uneven ground, to working in tight spaces, to working around electricity, selecting the right ladder equipment will make the job easier and safer. From  a stepladder, to an extension ladder, to a multi-position ladder, there are a variety of options. For example, the user may need a ladder with level-locking capabilities if working on uneven surfaces or stairs. And extension ladders can help with hard-to-reach spaces, but each comes with important guidelines that need to be followed. Ignoring the equipment limits and variances of specific ladder types can result in a fall or serious injury.

  1. Determine the maximum required height

An important consideration while selecting the right type of ladder is understanding height, weight and maximum reach capabilities. Consider the height you’ll need to reach for the project at hand. For example, projects on the roof require ladders that extend three feet beyond the roofline. A LEANSAFE ladder can also be leaned against a wall or other surface if the project does not require roof access. Keep in mind that the highest standing level is four rungs down from the top of your extension ladder, and you must also take the overlap of the two sections into consideration when determining reach and ladder heights. Determining the appropriate ladder based on the maximum height of the project – not the maximum height of the ladder itself – will greatly improve safety.

  1. Understand load capacity – How much weight will be on the ladder

Ladders are designed to safely hold a specific amount of weight. The “load capacity” is the maximum weight load recommended for safe use, which can range from 200 to 375 lbs. for residential use. For pro use the range is 300 to 375 lbs. Weight is one of the most important factors when selecting the grade of your ladder. Any materials that a worker is wearing, holding or carrying onto the ladder must be considered as well. For example, five gallons of paint weighs 60 lbs., so a person’s weight plus that 60 lbs. must be less than the ladder’s load capacity or duty rating.

  1. Choose the best material

Alongside load capacity, research the materials that will work best for the project. Ladders are typically made from fiberglass or aluminum, yet there are distinctive characteristics that can make one type more effective for the task at hand, depending on job requirements. If the user will be in contact with electrical wires or around certain chemicals, select a ladder made of fiberglass. This material is heat resistant, not conductive to electricity, and extremely sturdy. Aluminum is durable and it’s often the most common material choice, with its main advantage being its lighter weight, but job appropriateness should always guide selection. By following the manufacturer recommendations for weight and capacity, alongside project needs, either material can provide the right combination of strength, durability and safety.

  1. Store equipment properly

Proper storage can be the determining factor between equipment longevity and serious safety concerns. To ensure a ladder maintains its integrity and durability for years to come, there are a few things that should be done:

  • Keep the ladder clean and free of foreign materials
  • Store ladders in weather-protected and well-ventilated areas
  • Avoid moisture and excessive heat
  • Pad storage racks with soft materials to reduce wear
  1. Inspect before climbing

It’s important to inspect the ladder thoroughly before each use. Even if the user has taken all precautions by choosing the correct ladder safety can be compromised if the ladder isn’t inspected before climbing. A few important items to consider:

  • Missing Parts: Inspect for damaged or missing parts before each use.
  • Steps: Inspect each step of the ladder to search for cracks in the material, looseness between the step and the body of the ladder, missing pieces of hardware or any missing steps. Never use a ladder with missing or damaged parts.
  • Rails: Inspect each rail of the ladder for cracks in the material, frayed rail shields or braces, which can be indicators of compromised stability.
  • Labels: Labels should be legible and will often list important user information, such as the load capacity for the climber and their materials, directions for climbing safely, as well as any compliances with OSHA or ANSI.
  • Material Quality: Ensure the ladder’s material is in good condition. Check for corrosion, rusting or any loose parts, which can pose a danger to the user if left unchecked.
  • Hardware: Check to see that all bracing, shoes and rivets on the ladder are uniform and securely placed.
  • Repair: Never repair a damaged ladder without permission from the manufacturer.
  • Exposure: Replace the ladder completely if it is exposed to excessive heat or any corrosive agent. This can cause changes in the fiberglass strength and can sometimes be seen in the appearance of the fibers, color shift and loss of glossiness.
  1. Use common sense

When it comes down to it, using common sense in regard to climbing equipment is the key to avoiding small, yet costly, mistakes. Don’t take your ladder for granted. While it may seem like common sense, reviewing these best practices for the “right” and “wrong” way to use a ladder can prevent injuries.

With these seven important steps, a proactive approach to height safety and best practices can be taken. Because falls are one of the most common causes of fatalities in the building and construction industry, maintaining strict standards for safety and protection can prevent a worst-case scenario.  WMHS

Chad D. Lingerfelt is the national safety training manager at WernerCo. All Werner ladders and climbing equipment meet or exceed applicable OSHA and ANSI codes and stands for strength and structural integrity. Werner applies new regulations, codes and testing metrics to provide best-in-class training models for a variety of industries and companies of all sizes. To learn more about climbing safety and for each job type, visit www.wernerco.com. For any training related questions, please send an email to enduserspecialists@wernerco.com.

[1]   https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/fatal-injuries-from-ladders-down-in-2020-nonfatal-ladder-injuries-were-essentially-unchanged.htm

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