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Key Steps to Help Achieve Construction Worksite Ladder Safety


Ladders are necessary tools for construction projects that seem simple to use. Yet every year, far too many construction workers suffer injury or death because of falls from ladders. Reminding crews about basic ladder safety tips can help keep workers out of harm’s way.

A Harvard School of Public Health report noted that nearly one quarter of nonfatal falls in construction are related to ladder use, and 38% of construction fatalities are due to falls, compared to only 15% in general industry.

March is National Ladder Safety Month and can serve as a catalyst for training and toolbox talks to promote safe ladder practices that can help reduce the risk of injury. Here are three important steps that can help advance worksite ladder safety.

    The ladder a jobsite team chooses matters considerably in terms of safety and effectiveness. They need to make sure to use the right ladder for the job. It can be helpful to consult an expert resource such as a rental equipment provider who can assist a contractor in finding the right piece of equipment for the task at hand.

    Ladders are classified as fixed or portable. A fixed ladder is attached to a structure. An example is a ladder that provides long-term access to rooftop mechanical systems for maintenance crews. A portable ladder can be carried from place to place. Portable options include stepladders, straight ladders, extension ladders, platform ladders for two-handed tasks and tripod ladders for work in corners and next to stationary objects.

    Another important consideration is the ladder material. Metal ladders are not appropriate when working in the vicinity of electrical projects or power lines. But when there are no electrical hazards nearby, metal ladders may be preferable in areas of high moisture, which can cause wood ladders to decay. Fiberglass ladders, which are resistant to both weather and electricity, may also be a good choice, although they can be heavier in weight which makes them difficult for one person to handle alone.

    Maximum weight capacity, aka duty rating, is another significant factor to consider. Ladders are manufactured with certain end uses in mind. For example, if you use a platform ladder for ceiling repairs make sure the duty rating is adequate for the worker’s weight plus any tools, supplies and equipment.

    The five most common duty ratings and their weight limits are:

    • Type III (light duty). These are common household ladders ranging in length from three to six feet and capable of supporting up to 200 pounds.
    • Type II (medium duty). Medium duty ladders are designed for commercial use, such as by painters and electricians, and range in length from three to 20 feet. They can support up to 225 pounds.
    • Type I (heavy duty). Heavy duty ladders are used for professional services, including construction and public utilities, range in length from three feet to 20 feet and can support up to 250 pounds.
    • Type IA (extra heavy duty). These are similar to heavy duty ladders, but they support up to 300 pounds.
    • Type IAA (extra heavy duty). These ladders support up to 375 pounds.

    Ladders that are not in good working condition should be removed from service until they can be repaired. Here are some inspection pointers before ladder use:

    • Check for loose or missing rungs, bolts, nails or screws.
    • Make sure the non-skid feet are intact and not worn.
    • Check stepladders for wobble and damage to hinges.
    • Check wood ladders for signs of rot and metal ladders for rust and corrosion.

    Jobsite teams need to be trained on and familiar with the OSHA ladder safety standard. Here is a sampling of some of the OSHA ladder safety requirements that dictate how workers are required to use ladders.

    • Place a ladder one-quarter of its working length away from the supporting wall.
    • Do not place the ladder on unstable ground or atop materials or debris.
    • When using a ladder for roof access, the ladder must extend at least three feet above the roof’s surface.
    • Maintain three points of contact with the ladder — two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand. Always keep at least one hand on the ladder.
    • Never climb higher than the third rung from the top of an extension/straight ladder or higher than the second tread from the top of a stepladder.
    • Do not use a metal ladder within 10 feet of electricity.
    • Never try to “walk” a ladder into a new position while on it.

Workers also need to remember the ladder safety four-to-one rule. The base of the ladder should be placed so that it is one foot away from the building for every four feet of height to where the ladder rests against the building. If the ladder is 12 feet high where it touches the building, it should be a minimum of three feet away from the base of the building.

Following these three steps can help advance the knowledge, accountability and workplace culture that are needed to achieve a higher plane of ladder safety.

Francisco Martins is marketing specialist, Customer Equipment Solutions at United Rentals, an AGC of America Capstone Supporter. He has almost 20 years of driving marketing initiatives on a global scale. The Customer Fleet Solutions team collaborates with large equipment owners in developing solutions to optimize their owned fleets while lowering their total cost of equipment operations. For more information, visit www.unitedrentals.com or call (833) 407-3774.