Ladder/Scaffold Safety: The Ups and Downs

With millions working on ladders and scaffolds each day, the risks are high. Here are some ways to avoid those risks.

It’s said that life has its ups and downs, and that’s certainly true of people who work on ladders and scaffolds. But for them, the downs can be especially painful.

That’s led safety experts, backed by OSHA regulations, to come up with a number of recommendations on using these height-elevating devices properly. We’ve abstracted several here from BLR’s PowerPoint® training program, Staying Safe on Ladders and Scaffolds, among other sources, to pass on (or up) to your workers. Today, let’s talk ladders; tomorrow, scaffolds.

Keep your workers safe on ladders and scaffolds with BLR’s low-cost, high-safety content PowerPoint plus booklet program, Staying Safe on Ladders & Scaffolds. Read more.

Ladder safety starts on the ground

Actually, ladder safety starts on the ground. Ladders should be inspected before every use and, if defective, tagged and taken out of service. Look for cracks, wood splinters, or moving parts that bind or are disconnected or misaligned, along with worn ropes on extension ladders. You don’t want to find out about them 8 feet in the air.

Steps or rungs should be checked for looseness and cleaned of slippery spots. Wear shoes with nonslip surfaces, too.

Stepladders should be stored upright, and simple and extension ladders stored flat, so they don’t warp with age. It’s OK to store them horizontally on wall hooks, the experts say.

Transporting ladders takes special care. The old silent movie sight gag about carrying a ladder so that the back end swings around and whacks people is true. Always maintain clear vision the entire length of the ladder and beyond. And if carried on a vehicle, double-check the mountings. A 16-foot ladder flung onto a freeway is not a desirable thing.

At the jobsite

At the jobsite, be sure the ladder is up to the job. Ladders have different weight ratings.

Before lifting into place, scan the location. Be sure both feet are on firm ground, or boards are placed beneath if on soft surfaces. Note any power lines and stay away from them! Avoid leaning the ladder on any surface that might move or break through, and if you must place the ladder in front of a door, lock it and post someone to keep it shut.

Construction workers. Painters. Window washers. Anyone who works at heights needs to be trained in safety. BLR’s Staying Safe on Ladders & Scaffolds PowerPoint plus booklet program is the tool to do it. Low in cost, too! Click for details.

Finally, observe the 1 to 4 rule: The ladder should be placed horizontally one-quarter of its vertical length, so a 12-foot ladder should be positioned 3 feet from the wall.

If you’re using an extension ladder, keep 3 feet of overlap between sections. It’s also a good idea to physically tie the ladder’s top and bottom to fixed points to keep them from moving.

Climb like a bear

With all that done, it’s time to climb. Use a tool belt if you must carry equipment up, and always have 3-point contact with the ladder (both hands and one foot, or both feet and one hand). Never go above three rungs from the top, and come down and move the ladder if the work is beyond your reach.

Finally, learn the bear climb. That’s the right foot and hand moving simultaneously, followed by the left hand and foot. It may feel funny at first … but it might save your life.