Personnel Safety, Special Topics in Safety Management

Ladder Inspection on the Job: Important Safety Tips

In my safety classes, I often hear questions like “How should we inspect our ladders?” and “Who should do it?” According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), ladders must be inspected by a “competent person for visible defects on a periodic basis and after any occurrence that could affect their safe use (1926.1053).” So, who qualifies as a “competent person?” And how often is a “periodic basis?”

Ladder Inspection and SafetyThe Definition of a Competent Person

OSHA says a competent person is someone who is capable of “identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.” (1926.32)

Always make sure this competent person has specific training on inspecting ladders. The person who is trained to inspect your fall protection gear might not be considered competent to inspect ladders without the specific ladder training and experience.

What Periodic Really Means

Some might consider every 10 years to be a periodic basis, but the standard defines it more specifically. In section 1910.27(f), it says, “All ladders shall be inspected regularly, with the intervals between inspections being determined by use and exposure.” While this is clearer than just “periodic,” it is still not entirely clear how often ladders should be inspected. I recommend that “periodic” or “regularly” means at least every year, unless excessive use and exposure require it to be more frequent.

A lot of contractors say, “My workers are competent and they inspect their ladder every time they use it, so I’m covered.” The thing is, just because they inspect the ladder regularly does not mean they are doing a thorough job. The best way to ensure thorough inspections are happening is to have a record of inspections. Additionally, the ladders should have periodic competent inspection.

The user should inspect the ladder before each use. Regularly, a properly trained and “competent” person who knows what to look for and has authority to correct the problem should inspect the ladder. The competent person should also record and file the inspection. The American Ladder Institute (www.laddersafety.org) has a thorough checklist you can download and use.

What Exactly Should the Inspector Look For?

Feet/shoes. The feet on your ladder are like tires on your vehicle. The ladder feet are usually made of a soft plastic or rubber—this material helps create better traction, but soft material wears out and needs to be replaced. If the tread on your ladder feet is overly worn, take the time to change them. Taking this small step can help prevent a ladder-related accident.

Side rails and rungs. If the side rails or rungs are cracked, bent, or broken, the ladder is bad and needs to be destroyed so no one could possibly use it again. Companies have lost plenty of lawsuits because someone took a bad ladder out of the dumpster and was hurt on it. This fact might seem crazy, but it’s true. Companies are liable for any accidents that happen on their property or with their equipment.

When your ladders fade and discolor in the sunlight, it’s called “fiber bloom.” Fiber bloom becomes a problem when the material starts to crack or split and you get fiberglass slivers in your hands. During ladder inspection, you’ll want to check the rung-to-siderail connection to make sure it is tight.

Stickers. When using your ladder, do your best to keep the labels clean and in good condition. If the labels get rubbed off, replace them. Also, during the inspection, take a look at your ladder racks to make sure they are well-padded and not causing damage in transport.

Everything else. All parts of the ladder need to be inspected. Nuts, bolts, rivets, braces, spreaders, latches, and ropes should all be in good condition. They should be free from rust and in proper working order.

Ladder Inspection Is Worth the Effort

Why all this work for a ladder? Falls are the leading cause of injury and fatality in the workplace, and ladders are involved in more than half of those cases. Ladders are safety equipment and should be treated as such.

Dave Francis headshotDave Francis is an industry expert and thought leader in ladder safety training. Within the last year alone, he has been invited to provide on-site ladder safety training to companies coast to coast in fields ranging from airlines to construction, cable communications to space travel, entertainment to oil refining, and manufacturing to alarm systems. Companies requesting Francis’s training include:

  • ADT Security Systems
  • American Society of Safety Engineers
  • Association of Building Contractors
  • Association of General Contractors
  • Boeing
  • Cablevision
  • Chevron Phillips
  • Comcast
  • Con Edison
  • Cox Communications
  • DIRECTV
  • DISH

He can be reached at dave@ladders.com.