Each year, more than 300 people die due to fatal falls in the construction workplace. 23.6% of these fatal falls are caused by falls from ladders. Ladder safety is often overlooked in the workplace. They are not often very tall, and they are so ubiquitous to all construction jobs that many people simply take it for granted that contractors know and practice proper ladder safety. However, because the number of injuries and deaths from ladder falls is the second highest in the industry (falls from roofs are the first), it is clear that ladder safety needs more emphasis. If you work in construction, or are the head of a construction team, here is how you can protect yourself from injury or death if you work with ladders on a daily basis.
1. Never leave ladders unsecured.
When leaning a ladder against a surface, like a roof, for support, the ladder should be tied off or fastened at the top. This prevents the ladder from falling away from the top level with a person on it. Use rope, steel anchors, or cables to secure the ladder to a secondary support, like a beam of the house or a chimney. Many independent contractors may skip this step, especially if the ladder needs to be moved frequently. However, this step helps to make up for uneven ground or poor grip on the ladder.
Ladders should also be secured at the bottom to prevent them from moving backward. Place bricks or a frame at the feet of the ladder on both sides to keep it from sliding.
2. Use three limbs at all times.
When climbing a ladder, you use both arms and both legs. Proper ladder safety means only taking one limb off the ladder at a time, so that the other three provide an anchor for your body. This practice helps you to stay balanced should you lose your grip of if one of your feet slip. Then, there are always two points of contact as a safety net, instead of just one.
3. Don't use the ladder as a tool bench or workstation.
The ladder should always be clear of any obstructions. Never leave a hammer or a paint can on a ladder rung. If you forget it is there, or if someone else uses the ladder, unaware that those tools are in the way, they could cause a slip, leading the person to fall from the ladder, sometimes from a great height. Also, if you can help it, never use one of your hands to carry tools up and down the ladder. Secure tools at your waist, and use scaffolding to hold materials that you need at the higher level.
Ladders should not be used a surface for completing work. Scaffolding should be used. Ladders should therefore only be used to get from point A to point B. Standing and working from a ladder reduces balance and makes the 3-point contact rule very difficult to follow.
4. Use the right angle for ladders.
Ladders that lean against the wall or roof for support should neither be too steep or too narrow. As a general rule, for every four feet of ladder, the distance from the base of the wall to the bottom of the ladder should increase by one foot. So, if you have a twelve foot ladder, the bottom of the ladder should rest three feet from the wall. This helps distribute the load on the ladder evenly from the wall to ground, and prevents the ladder from becoming too top heavy.
5. Use the right ladder for the job.
A basic step ladder that supports itself without a wall, should never be used folded and leaned against the wall. Straight ladders that don't fold out have wider feet and bases; they are designed to be firm and balanced. The stepladder is designed to distribute a load over both sides, so the feet and base of the ladder could break or collapse if used without both sides.
In order to provide your workers with fall protection, make sure they follow these guidelines.