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The Basics of Ladder Safety In The Workplace

Ladders are handy tools around the home and on construction sites, and with a variety of sizes and shapes, ladders help with all kinds of jobs. However, if misused ladders can quickly go from helpful to hazardous.

When most people use a ladder, they either open it or lean it against a steady structure. Yet, very few people pay close attention to the warning signs of a broken ladder.

Work-related falls from ladders account for one-fifth (⅕) of all fatalities on NYC construction sites.  The number of deaths is a staggering statistic when you consider how many construction sites have heavy equipment that could harm you.  However, it is ladder fatalities that surpass heavy equipment accidents.

In this article, you’ll learn the basics of safe ladder use in the workplace and what employers should do to maintain ladder safety standards.

What Is the Proper Way to Use a Ladder?

You may think that everybody knows how to use a ladder and that it’s not that difficult.

Ladders are commonplace and their use is pretty straightforward, yet, the numbers don’t lie: Ladder falls make up a considerable percentage of workplace accidents.

Companies invest thousands, if not millions, of dollars into training programs and software for their employees to mitigate this.

Consider the chart below:

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OSHA provides reasonably priced training for construction companies so that ladder fall injuries may be avoided.  Despite this, falls from ladders and accidents remain commonplace. It seems clear that even after all of the training and direction, employees still don’t know or fully understand proper ladder practices.

According to OSHA, there are a series of standards that detail the proper use of ladders and ladder safety:

  • Standard 1910.23(b)(11) – Each employee faces the ladder when climbing up or down it.

This sounds simple but workers frequently walk down a ladder the wrong way due to convenience, often with smaller ladders that have two to three steps.  Falls from ladders that are taller often result in fibula fractures or other types of pain, injury, and damage to the body, but falls from smaller ladders can cause serious injury as well.

  • Standard 1910.23(b)(12) – Each employee uses at least one hand to grasp the ladder when climbing up and down it.

It is essential to always have at least one hand holding the ladder as you climb up and down the ladder. This vital point of contact maintains stability, balance, and control of both yourself and the ladder.

  • Standard 1910.23(c)(4) – Ladders are used only on stable and level surfaces unless secured or stabilized to prevent accidental displacement.

Your ladder must be placed on a flat, stable surface.  Whether in a place of business or at home, no one should prop a ladder’s base on uneven or shaky ground.

If a worker uses a ladder on uneven ground, it drastically increases the possibility of ladder fall injuries, rib fractures, and even hospital admission for internal organ damage due to trauma.

Here’s another look at a pamphlet from OSHA detailing ladder safety and proper usage:

It is essential to avoid electrical hazards when working on a ladder because metal ladders conduct electricity.  If a ladder is set up near electrical hazards, this could result in more than just injuries from falls and could result in electrical burn or a shock injury.

This is why a clean, organized, and tagged work area can make all the difference.  With these work practices, workers are safe from other types of injuries besides just falls from ladders.

Another leading cause of ladder injuries is using a damaged ladder.  All too often workers risk their well-being and climb an unsafe ladder to perform job tasks.  This type of dangerous situation can easily result in a wrist injury or fibula fractures and is why employees should always inspect the ladder before using it.

Workers often overlook the 3-point contact rule when climbing a ladder at work.  Workers commonly do this when climbing a ladder with a short height, such as a 6-foot tall ladder, as the worker assumes their balance is fine and also attempts to carry tools in both hands while climbing.

Unfortunately, gravity disagrees and will almost always cause falls from ladders severe enough to land you in the emergency department. The 3-point contact rule exists to ensure that construction workers remain safe and always maintain balance when using a ladder.

Please also take note that the last rung on the top half of a ladder is not an extra step.

Think of it this way:  when a worker climbs up to the top step, they have lost their three points of contact.  Therefore, stepping on the top-most rung compromises both the ladder balance and worker’s balance.  Instead, use an extension ladder to mitigate the potential for ladder related injuries in this situation.

As mentioned earlier having a stable and level surface is necessary for ultimate ladder safety. Without this stability, there is no possible way to be safe.

Never move a ladder when someone is using it.  If you are attempting to carry/move a ladder while someone is on it, then the ladder is not stable.  This puts the other person’s life and well-being in danger, and further if you are carrying the ladder you are putting yourself in danger as well.

Every ladder is capable of holding specific weights and this can be determined by the duty rating of the ladder.  The ladder’s material and the structure determine its load-bearing ability.  A worker should not get on a ladder if the load he is carrying plus his/her weight is too great for the ladder to bear.

Certain ladder types are simply not made for industrial settings.  For example, most household ladders have a duty rating of Type 3, capable of holding up to 200 pounds.  In comparison, industrial ladder types with a duty rating of 1AA can hold up to 375 pounds.

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The fact is that the wrong ladder types will collapse under too much weight, and this will cause injury to those around the accident.

5 Tips From OSHA to Avoid Ladder Related Injuries


#1: Use the Right Duty Rating for Ladder Safety Loads

To make sure you’re using the right duty rating ladders and minimize workplace accidents, OSHA has a few guidelines. It specifies that a ladder in the workplace must withstand the intended load up to four times.

#2: Understand Your Ladder Angle (Or Use Extension Ladders)

Some extension ladders are self-supporting fold-outs, and others are leaning ladders. It is always tricky trying to figure out the best angle to lean a ladder.

A good rule of thumb is for the ladder to lean out approximately one-fourth (¼) of the working ladder length not including the top step.  Leaning the ladder this far out guarantees it is not over-extending if you are not working with an extension ladder.

For a wooden ladder, the leaning size is approximately one-eighth (⅛) of the ladder.  Wooden ladders tend to be weaker in the joints when compared to their metal counterparts and therefore, it’s important to position a wooden ladder closer to the structure in a leaning position.

#3 Inspect the Ladder Rungs

In the workplace, ladder rungs must be durable, textured, and flat.  Ladder rungs experience the most wear and tear on a ladder, so a ladder’s longevity is only as good as the rungs’ durability and strength. Weak rungs will shorten the lifespan of the ladder and increase the risk of falls and injuries.

Textured rungs are incredibly useful, especially when using these in inclement weather or outdoors in varying weather conditions.  For example, textured, non-slip rungs will help workers maintain balance and stay safe when it’s drizzling.

Furthermore, tasks like pressure washing and gutter cleaning require both water and ladders. Because of the water and dirt residue, workers perched on the ladder can easily slip without textured rungs to provide grip.

Ladder rungs also need to be flat.  If a rung is twisting or rotating in its socket, it is unsafe to use the entire structure.  If it’s not safe to put a ladder on an uneven surface, it is equally unwise to use a ladder with missing or rotating rungs.

#4: Maintain Slip Prevention Safety Practices

If a worker does not take proper precautions, it is easy to slip on a ladder.  Employees should not use ladders anywhere near liquids like oil, grease, wet paint, and other slow dissolving and slow evaporating liquids.  These kinds of liquids are extraordinarily slippery and cause a lot of damage.

In some professions, such as that of painters, mixing ladders and liquid paint is unavoidable. This situation requires the utmost attention and care to ensure all workers’ safety.  Certain footwear can also help with maintaining your grip.

#5: Ensure Other Requirements Are in Place

As mentioned in the ladder angle portion, some ladders are fold-outs.  When using a fold-out ladder, always make sure the locking device and mechanism work properly.  This device locks the ladder in place when in use and prevents the ladder from collapsing.  All fold-out ladders must have a working locking device.

The workplace around the base and top of the ladder should be kept clear and only in a clean workspace can an employee stay safe and work efficiently.


The bottom line is that ladder falls are a significant concern in the construction industry.  Even with all of the protocol and investments in proper training, workers still suffer severe injuries like broken bones, head injuries, and paralysis.

These are not things to ignore.

In a perfect world, ladder falls wouldn’t be a cause of death and families wouldn’t need lawyers to defend injured loved ones.  Unfortunately, these are the realities that construction workers and other tradespeople face every day, and an injury in this type of business is all too common across the United States.

Fortunately, the lawyers at Schwartzapfel® Lawyers are here to help heal physically and financially.  With a proven track record for compensation and justice, Schwartzapfel® Lawyers will do right by you!  If you or a loved one has suffered a nasty fall, you need the strongest representation NYC has to offer. Call Schwartzapfel® Lawyers today!

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