Use ladders safely so workers don’t fall down on the job


At some point or another, we’ve all needed to retrieve an object or perform a task at a height that’s just beyond our reach. When that happens, are your employees reaching for approved ladders or stepstools or the most convenient substitute? Ground-level falls can lead to serious injury, but falling from heights is exponentially more dangerous and potentially fatal. Whether ladder use is part of regularly assigned duties or the result of a circumstantial need such as changing a lightbulb, ladder safety affects all employees eventually. Ensure your employees are using appropriate equipment and are adequately trained in its use. Read on for a quick overview of basic ladder safety in the workplace.

Basic ladder safety in the workplace

According to OSHA, falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. The National Ag Safety Database (NASD) attributes the cause of most ladder accidents to improper selection, care or use of the portable ladder by the worker. That underscores the need to train all employees on safe ladder usage.

The first step in basic ladder safety in the workplace is selecting the appropriate ladder for the task. Never allow employees to use countertops, chairs, boxes or other substitutes to complete even trivial tasks that only take a moment to complete. Each facility should be equipped with an easily accessible portable step ladder or step stool. All employees should be aware of their location and trained in their use.

For more involved projects such as painting, installing equipment or performing maintenance, it’s equally important to ensure the ladder’s load rating is adequate. According to NASD and OSHA, ladders are categorized into the following classes:

  • Type III Household Use – Light Duty – Maximum load capacity 200 lbs.
  • Type II Commercial Use – Medium Duty – Maximum load capacity 225 lbs.
  • Type I Industrial Use – Heavy Duty – Maximum load capacity 250 lbs.
  • Type IA Industrial Use – Extra Heavy Duty – Maximum load capacity 300 lbs.
  • Type IAA Rugged Use – Special Duty – Maximum load capacity 375 lbs.

A ladder’s maximum load capacity considers both the worker’s weight plus any additional tools, equipment or materials being used. Employees should always check the load rating of a portable ladder before using it and never exceed it. Encourage employees to reach out to management if a ladder is inadequate for the needs of the task they are required to perform.

It is important to note two significant distinctions between portable ladder types. Self-supporting ladders can hold themselves upright in a free-standing fashion on any level surface. Non-self-supporting ladders must be leaned against a wall or other solid surface to stand upright. Regardless, all ladders must be set up properly to avoid malfunction and failure. Being aware of this distinction and abiding by proper set-up requirements are important part of basic ladder safety in the workplace.

Guidelines for basic ladder safety in the workplace

Employees should adhere to the following guidelines (obtained from the OSHA Quick Card, OSHA eTools, and NASD) when using portable ladders. Spreading awareness of these guidelines amongst your workforce is an excellent first step in preventing ladder injuries and fatalities.

  • Read and follow all labels and markings on ladder before use.
  • Never use a ladder or ladder accessory for a purpose other than its intended use.
  • Always inspect ladders prior to use. Damaged ladders should be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.
  • Ladders should be kept clear of all oil, grease, wet paint or other slipping hazards.
  • Always maintain a three-point contact (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) on the ladder when climbing.
  • Keep weight placement near the middle of the step; always face the ladder while climbing.
  • Do not use the top steps or rungs of a ladder unless they specifically indicate that users may do so.
  • Do not over-reach; instead, climb down and reposition the ladder.
  • Do not use ladders near power lines, exposed or energized electrical equipment or other electrical hazards.
  • Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface.
  • Do not alter a ladder to obtain additional height.
  • Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
  • Keep the area around the top and bottom of a ladder clear.
  • Ensure ladders are placed in locations where they will not be easily affected by other activities and traffic.
Related: Helpful tips for ladder safety

Ladder maintenance

All portable ladders should undergo regular inspection and maintenance. NASD offers the following guidance on ladder maintenance:

Wooden ladders

  • Protect with a clear sealer varnish, shellac, linseed oil or wood preservative.
  • Do not use opaque paint since that could hide defects.
  • Check carefully for cracks, rot, splinters, broken rungs, loose joints and bolts or hardware that’s in poor condition.

Aluminum or steel ladders

  • Inspect for rough burrs and sharp edges before use.
  • Inspect closely for loose joints and bolts, faulty welds and cracks.
  • Make sure the hooks and locks on extension ladders are in good condition.
  • Replace worn or frayed ropes on extension ladders at once.

Fiberglass ladders

  • Maintain a surface coat of lacquer.
  • If lacquer is scratched beyond normal wear, it should be lightly sanded before applying additional lacquer.

Did you know March is National Ladder Safety Month? Click the link to view the American Ladder Institute’s website for more about the event and related resources.


OSHA Quick Card: Portable Ladder Safety
OSHA Construction eTool: Falls – Ladder Safety
NASD: Portable Ladder Safety

National Ladder Safety Month

For additional information on ladder safety, please consult the following resources.

OSHA Fact Sheet: Reducing Falls in Construction: Safe Use of Stepladders
American Ladder Institute – Basic Ladder Safety

If you have any questions, contact your Preferred Loss Control consultant.

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