Long Island Scrap Metal

Spotlight on Safety: Ladder Safety

By Charles Keeling, Safety Director


Portable ladders are common everyday tools people take for granted. Principal causes of ladder-related injuries include using the wrong type or size, misuse and using defective ladders. Few people consider ladder safety on the job or at home, particularly now that the holiday season approaches as they install lights and decorations. The dangers associated with unsafe ladder use are due to poor understanding, misconceptions and lack of preparation, which can cause serious injury. Although amazed at times, I am far from shocked as to how people try to hurt themselves using ladders. Therefore, let me take this opportunity to explain the types and ratings, as well as the safe and proper use of portable ladders.

Portable ladders include the A-frame or step ladder, extension ladder, articulating ladder (Little Giant) and the straight ladder. Materials used to construct ladders include wood, aluminum, fiberglass or a combination thereof. Ladder ratings range from household (light use) to industrial (heavy use), based on capacity ratings (I-A, I, II, III), which mean the maximum amount of weight (lbs.) the ladder can support. Ladder manufacturers are required to install a rating and load capacity and instruction labels on every ladder. For example, if your ladder has a Type III household rating of 200 pounds, and your body weight and hand tools weigh 210 pounds, do not use the ladder; select a ladder with a higher duty rating.

When using a ladder, first plan and learn before jumping on and climbing up. The ladder must be in good condition. Check it over thoroughly. If it is damaged, discard it. Don’t try to fix it.

Is the ladder the proper size for the job? Never stand on the top two steps of an A-frame ladder. Extension and straight ladders should extend above the work locations, never standing so high on the rungs so that your shoulders are past the top edge of the ladder rails.

Next, place the ladder on a firm, level surface with secure footing; never have it leaning to a side. Make sure A-frame ladders are fully open, locked in and secure. Extension ladders should also be on a firm, level surface. Secure the base to prevent movement. Also consider securing the ladder at the top to prevent movement and slippage.

Consider the task. If you are working near electricity, non-conducting wood or fiberglass ladders should be the choice. Never allow tools or the ladder to come in contact with live electrical wires.

After choosing the proper size and type, ascend and descend by always facing the ladder, keeping the body centered between the rails. Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder: two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot. Use a tool belt or other means to bring tools and materials to the elevation needed. Don’t overreach; the center of your body should never extend past the side rails. Move the ladder when needed. Additionally, keep the ladder close to your work; avoid pushing or pulling off to the side. Never jog or move the ladder when standing on it; it’s not a pogo stick.

A-frame ladders, in my opinion, are the most misused of all ladders. Many times, I have observed people standing or, should I say, balancing themselves on the top two steps. Also, people fail to fully open up the A-frame, or use it as a straight ladder. I have also observed A-frames used as a makeshift scaffold, whereby planks or other ladders are set resting on the rungs and employees are doing a balancing act. Furthermore, never use the top of your step ladder as a workbench; tools can accidentally fall, hurting someone below.

Extension and straight ladders are not far behind in unsafe usage. I have seen such hazards as ladders set up on blocks, vehicles, heavy equipment or other unstable means for additional reach and two joined together to make taller ladders. Additionally, I’ve seen extension ladders separated to make two separate ladders. The problem is that the fly section does not have feet to ensure firm footing and prevent slippage. Also, these ladders have been used as horizontal work platforms, whereby plywood is laid across the rungs to create a flat surface. Ladders don’t have ratings for strength in the horizontal position. Also, never attach anything to the side rails and rungs; this makes the ladder extremely unstable. Special care should be taken to keep children and unknowing people away from and under all ladders.

If you have a physical handicap that would prevent you from climbing a ladder, or if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then you should never use a ladder. There’s no such thing as being too safe.