Ladder Safety and Special Construction Site Problems

OSHA requires all ladders to be able to support four times the intended load – that is passenger and tools. We don’t usually look at ladders by gross capacity, we look at ladders by type and rated capacity. For example, most construction ladders are rated “Type I” (pronounced “type one”) which have a rated capacity of 250 pounds. This is a heavy duty ladder that is useful for work outdoors as well as indoors.

Below that is the “Type II” (pronounced “type two”), medium duty ladder for small jobs, usually interior painting and light carpentry. It is rated at 225 pounds. The “Type III” ladder is for household use, is rated for only 200 pounds and should never be seen in a construction or commercial application.

Above the “Type I” ladders are the “Type 1A” and the “Type 1AA” which are rated at 300 pounds and 375 pounds, respectively. Some boys just need a bigger ladder!

The listed ratings include the weight of the passenger and tools or materials. So, if you weigh 225 pounds and you intend to carry an 80 pound sheet of plywood up the ladder, the proper ladder to select is a Type IAA. An excellent resource for selecting the proper ladder can be found online at the Werner Ladder website.

Selecting the proper ladder is important and can mean the difference between working safely and ending up in the hospital. When I was in the hospital a few years back, the ward next to mine was filled with people who had fallen and damaged their heads – most fell off of ladders.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says more than 164,000 emergency room-treated injuries every year in the U.S. are related to ladders. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, more than 2.1 million individuals were treated in U.S. emergency departments for ladder-related injuries from 1990 through 2005. The author attributed most of the problem to people being unaware of the risks of using a ladder.

Construction sites pose extra dangers for ladders on four fronts:

  1. Open framing. Placing an extension ladder against a stud on an unsheeted wall is a common practice. Because of this single-point contact, the ladder will twist and the passenger will either fall with the ladder or be forced to jump off. Many times, this will result in injuries. And the danger is increased when combined with one or both of the next two hazards.
  2. Loose soils. When a foundation is backfilled, most often the replaced soils are not compacted. In these cases, a ladder, when placed against a building will often sink into the soil with one or both legs. This is even more dangerous after heavy rains. It is a good practice to compact backfills. Barring that, the next best practice is to make certain the ladder is placed on stable soils or is supported by stable materials.
  3. Uneven soils. How often I have watched construction workers place their ladder wherever, regardless of the terrain. On uneven soils, they might find a piece of wood or garbage to prop up one leg of the ladder to even this out. This represents a common source of injury. Placing ladders on uneven soils that are loose – and maybe damp – further compounds the problem.
  4. Poor Housekeeping. A poorly policed work site is a dangerous work site. You don’t want workers tripping over garbage – and combined with ladder use, this represents a dangerous threat. Keep your site clean – not only is it safer to work in but people might even get the impression you are a professional who takes pride in his work.

When you are working on the eave of a building is not the time to be thinking about fixing your ladder. Make certain your ladder is in good repair and is set on firm soil before you begin your ascent. Press hard on the first rung to validate the integrity of the soil before placing your entire body-weight on the ladder.

Three more quick rules-of-thumb to keep you out of ladder trouble:

  1. Do not use step ladders in the closed position;
  2. Extension ladders should angle out from the wall 20-25% of the elevated height; and
  3. Never use a ladder for any purpose other than the one for which it was designed.

If you are an employer and use ladders at your place of business and/or on the job site, you are required by OSHA to train your employees in the proper use of ladders. Cougar Gulch Group, LLC can make this simple for you. Call Dean at 208-699-6877 for your free consultation.

About the author: Dean Isaacson

General contractor since 1975 (currently with Idaho Contractor). Previously held Certified Safety Administrator status from the National Association of Safety Professionals. Expert witness and forensics in construction related cases. Will help you with project management and marketing. We do cold calls and trade shows.

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