Using and Inspecting Ladders at Work
Much of the OSHA ladder regulations govern their general design and construction, including their length and form (e.g., step ladders versus single ladders versus extension ladders). However, the regulations also make a point of distinguishing between metal and wooden ladders and in fact divide them into separate standards (i.e., 29 CFR 1910.25 and 1910.26).
Few workplaces build their own ladders on site, so it's more than likely that any ladders you're using are purchased equipment. Since these Federal standards are decades old, and based on industry consensus standards, it's unlikely that a recently purchased ladder would not already meet these requirements. So the remainder of this article focuses on other requirements for ladders, in particular, ladder inspection and use.
Ladders used in the workplace must be inspected "frequently" [29 CFR 1910.25(d)(1)(x)]. While OSHA does not define "frequently," best practice dictates inspecting the ladder before each use, and sometimes more frequently. For example, if a ladder tips or falls over, then you must immediately inspect it for dents, loose connections, and other signs of damage.
What specifically are you inspecting? The following is a list of some things to look out for:
- The joints between the side rails and rungs (i.e., steps or cleats) must be securely and tightly attached.
- Any parts that are supposed to move (hinges, extensions, shelves, etc.) must operate freely without sticking, binding, or excess movement.
- Metal bearings (locks, pulleys, wheels, etc.) must be lubricated.
- Worn or frayed rope must be replaced.
- Safety feet must be kept in good condition.
- Rungs must be free of grease and oil.
Whenever you find a ladder that has developed a safety defect, you must immediately stop using it, tag or mark it as "DANGEROUS, DO NOT USE" [29 CFR 1910.25(d)(1)(x)], and either repair it or destroy it. If the defect involves missing or damaged rungs, don't make improvised repairs. See to it that the ladder is properly repaired or purchase a new one.
Using Ladders [29 CFR 1910.25(d)(2)]
Straight portable ladders must be pitched (leaned) such that the horizontal distance from the foot of the ladder to the top of the support is one-quarter of the working length of the ladder (i.e., the length along the ladder from the foot to the top). When using a ladder to reach a roof, you must leave at least three feet of ladder length extending beyond the point of support.
When positioning a ladder, you must securely seat the ladder so that it won't slip, either by lashing it in place or by having another person hold it. The feet of the ladder must be secured in place, using a nonslip base if necessary.
There a few other important items worth mentioning when setting up a ladder. Do not stand the ladder on a box, barrel, or other unstable base just to get extra height; get a longer ladder if you need one. Avoid placing a ladder in front of a door. If you have to place it in front of a doorway, then you must take steps to ensure no one opens the door while the ladder is in use. Lastly, never use a ladder as a brace, skid, gangway, or in any other manner that is not authorized by the manufacturer.
When it comes to using a ladder, you want to make sure you have the proper footwear (slip-resistant shoes or boots are recommended). Before you climb up or down the ladder, make sure you are facing it. Maintain three points of contact with the ladder at all times. Depending on the task, this means two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand. Any equipment or tools you need to bring with you must either be on your belt or later heaved up by a rope.
When descending, climb straight down again keeping three points of contact at all times. Do not slide down the side rails or use the ladder to travel horizontally (i.e., from side to side). Always remember that no more than one person may stand on a ladder at the same time and never exceed the ladder's maximum load rating. Following these simple ladder tips will help you get the job done safely.
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