Safety Advice: Selecting the Right Ladder
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has estimated that 33 percent of construction trade fatalities are due to falls from heights and 6 percent of these falls originated from a ladder. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's 1994 study, more than 90,000 people in the United States received emergency room treatment for ladder-related injuries and 300 died. Underwriters Laboratories estimates that over 222,000 portable ladder accidents requiring professional medical treatment are reported every year in the United States.
OSHA mandates in Subpart M of its standards that all employers have the "duty" to prevent employee falls from heights. This also holds true for ladder falls in Subpart X. OSHA has recorded over 24,800 on-the-job stair and ladder accidents annually, with more than half attributed to unsafe acts and ladder misuse. Half of these OSHA-recordable ladder accidents (6,500 annually) are serious enough to result in either lost work time or hospitalization. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has determined that ladder accidents can be equally divided into three categories: (1) The wrong ladder for the site or task was selected; (2) The condition of the ladder or the bearing surfaces was inadequate for the loads imposed; or (3) The ladder was being used in an unsafe manner. In other words, the majority of the root causes of ladder accidents result from mental rather than structural failure.
Ladder BasicsIt should be obvious to all roofers that not every portable ladder is meant for every construction task. The employer's competent person for ladders should make a concerted effort to evaluate the potential use of ladders in light of the design features of the ladder(s) selected and the work tasks to be performed. This is done by means of a job safety analysis (JSA). It is by this simple evaluative checklist of ladder tasks, hazard identification and abatement procedures that the competent person may "Observe, Act and Verify" that the ladders have been properly selected and inspected and the climbing personnel are adequately trained and prepared in their use. Complacent ladder use without a JSA is simply waiting for neglect or misuse to overtake you. And it will.
There are four major ladder classifications based upon their maximum-rated working (live) loads. These duty ratings will be prominently displayed by color-coded labels on the side rails.
Type III-Light Duty 200 pounds (household use).
Type II-Medium Duty 225 pounds (commercial handymen, light maintenance and mechanics).
Type I-Heavy Duty 250 pounds (tradesmen, construction and industrial).
Type 1A-Extra-Heavy Duty 300 pounds (heavy industrial use).
There are two major types of ladders: fixed and portable. Of the portable variety common on most construction sites, they may be either self-supporting (step ladders) or non-self-supporting (extension ladders). There are hundreds of specialized portable ladders on the market today. Ladder construction materials may include steel, aluminum, wood and fiberglass. Lightweight and strong carbon fiber ladders will soon be on the commercial market. Keep in mind that neither OSHA nor ANSI but rather the manufacturer's testing laboratory actually certifies that the ladders meet ANSI's minimum construction standards.
There are four main factors to consider by the competent person whenever selecting a ladder for a task:
Work Activity: This would obviously indicate whether the best ladder would be a stepladder or extension ladder. Determine whether it will be used as a means of access or a workstation.
Application: This would entail computation of the maximum applied load (weight of worker, clothes, tools and materials) in order to select the maximum rated load of the ladder. The ANSI-rated (maximum usable) working load has a 2x safety factor incorporated into its rating.
Maximum Height: It is critical that you determine the maximum work height to be achieved in order to safely complete your tasks. Ladder workers should never stand on the next-to-the-last step of a stepladder or the third-from-the-top rung of an extension ladder.
Materials: The materials from which the ladder should be constructed are also important. Nonconductive materials (fiberglass/wood) should be selected whenever there is a potential for hazardous electrical exposure. Aluminum ladders may often prove to be lightweight and easier to handle under some conditions.
Even the best materials and construction methods employed by a manufacturer cannot ensure that the ladders will be regularly inspected and properly maintained by the worker who is assigned to climb them. The employer's competent person trainer is obligated to provide all the necessary training for ladder climbers on the job. This is a duty that requires constant vigilance and evaluation, as the type and use of a ladder often may change during the scope of the job. It is also human nature to take the simple tools for granted and unsafe ladder work practices may often appear months or even weeks after the employee has attended ladder safety training.
There are thousands of sources for ladder safety training in the marketplace today, but comprehensive (and free) information can be obtained from the OSHA Web site (www.osha.gob/doc/out reachtraining/htmlfiles/stairlad.html).
Every major ladder manufacturer also has a great deal of safety-related information available for the employer's access and many will often provide employers onsite training seminars by their district safety representatives.
InspectionsIt might be considered a cliché by this time, but every ladder, regardless of age, should be "maintained in the condition in which it was manufactured." Simple.
Every employer should designate one or more competent persons to be responsible for ladder inspections. These personnel shall be capable of identifying existing and potential ladder hazards and of taking prompt corrective measures to abate those hazards. Inspections require that each ladder is adequately tagged for identity number and date of purchase. Inspection logs on each ladder should be completed on a regular schedule, even though the ladders may travel from jobsite to jobsite without ever reaching the shop.
Ladders determined to be defective (less than manufactured condition) shall be tagged "out of service" by the competent person until such time that the ladder can be removed from the site to be either repaired by a certified technician or else destroyed and replaced. A defective piece of equipment or tool that is prominently tagged out will not be subject to an OSHA violation as long as it is not being used by a worker.
Every physical part present at time of manufacture should be secure and undamaged at the time of inspection. Typical inspection points include:
- Pay special attention to side rails, rungs/steps, spreaders and non-slip feet.
- Make sure all ropes are not frayed or cut and the pulleys function smoothly.
- There should be no rough or jagged projections on a ladder that could puncture, rip or snag skin or clothing.
- All moveable parts should be well lubricated and operate smoothly.
- Ensure all walking surfaces are free from grease, oil and slippery substances.
- Every surface of the ladder should be visibly inspected. No opaque finishes should obscure the surface.
- Every warning decal installed on a side rail should still be present, complete and legible. Most ladder manufacturers offer bilingual labels and pictograms.
ANSI A14.5-2000 is the manufacturer's standard of construction and safety practices for portable reinforced plastic ladders. Others include: ANSI A14.1 (Portable Wood Ladders); ANSI A14.2 (Portable Metal Ladders); ANSI A14.10 (Portable Special Duty Ladders).
Observe the load capacity and type classification of your ladder and never exceed the manufacturer's recommendations.