Ladders are used every day but can be dangerous when they are not used correctly. Injuries can occur when a portable ladder is placed on uneven or unstable surfaces. When workers reach too far to one side and cause the ladder to move to the other side, and when the ladder is not braced properly or is supported only by other workers.
Serious injuries can happen from falls if workers select the wrong ladder for the job. Rain, water or oil makes the rungs of the ladder slippery. Workers try to hold equipment and climb up or down the ladder without holding on with both hands. Portable ladders should not be used if there is a safer alternative such as scaffolding, work platforms, or fixed ladders.
The ladder has to be tall enough for the job. Workers often stand too high on the ladder to keep their balance (the last two rungs are very dangerous places to stand) because they do not want to take the time to get a longer ladder, or they may place the legs of the ladder on bricks or drums in order to get higher, which is very dangerous.
The rungs of the ladder should be coated with or made of non-slippery surfaces. Ladders should be checked periodically for broken rungs, loose pieces, or cracks and should be clean and free of grease or other slippery materials.
A very important component of worker safety with ladders is the placement of the ladder. The top of the ladder should be well supported, so it does not slide or slip. The legs of the ladder should be placed on a solid, stable, non-slippery surface.
The ladder should be placed so that there is a ratio of four to one for the height of the ladder to the point of support at the top divided by the distance back from the support.
That is, for every meter (100 cm) vertical, there is about 25 cm (1/4 meter) horizontal out from the base of support, a ratio of 4 to 1 (height to distance back from where the ladder is supported at the top).
If the ladder is resting on a support structure, there should be at least a meter, extending beyond the support, so that the workers can safely lift themselves up and get off.
How the worker uses the ladder is also important. Workers climbing up or down ladders should always face the ladder and hold on, and never climb down with their back to the ladder. Soles of the workers’ shoes should be free of mud, grease and other slippery substances.
Tools should be carried on a belt or hauled up using a line, in order to leave the hands free for grip during climbing.