More than 130,000 people receive emergency room treatment from ladder-related injuries every year in the United States. Elevated falls account for almost 700 occupational deaths annually, which is 15% of all occupational deaths. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) believes all ladder accidents can be prevented if proper attention to equipment and user training were provided. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years fall related injury trends in the workplace have been moving in the wrong direction and the amount of ladder-related injuries has increased by 50% over that period.
It takes people about 1/3 of a second to become aware of a fall. It takes another 1/3 of a second for the body to react. A person can free fall about 7 feet in 2/3 of a second so averting a fall once it has begun is not likely. The good news is falls from ladders are very preventable if we select the proper equipment, climbers understand how ladders need to be used, and safe practices are actually followed when ladders are being utilized.
The following are some basic safety principles for ladder use. There is more to understand than these basic principles so we hope you will also check out the links provided to the American Ladder Institute (which include more detailed information, access to free in-depth training modules) as well as the second link which leads to an updated version of the OSHA standard for ladder use in general industry.
- Consider if there is a way to keep your feet firmly on the ground and still get the work done. For example, consider the use of telescopic poles with attachments to do work like saw off tree branches, change light bulbs, dust, and wash windows as a safe alternative to climbing. Alternatives may involve less work than ladder use.
- Consider if there is a safer method of getting up to the work such as an elevated platform lift.
- Select the proper type of ladder for the job and select one that is long enough so you will not have to stand on the upper steps or overreach to do the work.
- Prior to using a ladder read and follow all labels/markings on the ladder.
- Avoid electrical hazards! – Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.
- Always inspect the ladder prior to using it. If the ladder is damaged, it must be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.
- Always maintain a 3-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing. Keep your body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder while climbing (see diagram). If you can not maintain three points of contact you many need to select another means of elevation.
- Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks or hooks) for their designed purposes.
- Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet.
- Do not use a self-supporting ladder (e.g., step ladder) as a single ladder or in a partially closed position unless it is specifically designed for that purpose.
- Do not use the top step/rung of a ladder as a step/rung unless it was designed for that purpose.
- Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface, unless it has been secured (top or bottom) to prevent displacement.
- Do not place a ladder on boxes, barrels or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.
- Keep your belt buckle between the side rails of the ladder, moving beyond this and you could fall off or tip the ladder over sideways.
- Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
- An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend at least 3 feet above the point of support (see diagram). Walk through ladder extensions are the preferred way to get on and off elevated surfaces with an extension ladder.
- Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder.
- The proper angle for setting up a ladder is to place its base a quarter of the working length of the ladder from the wall or other vertical surface (see diagram).
- A ladder placed in any location where it can be displaced by other work activities must be secured to prevent displacement or a barricade must be erected to keep traffic away from the ladder.
- Be sure that all locks on an extension ladder are properly engaged.
- Do not exceed the maximum load rating of a ladder. Be aware of the ladder’s load rating and of the weight it is supporting, including the weight of any tools or equipment.
- Secure straight ladders at the top and bottom whenever possible and have someone hold step ladders if possible.
- Assure you do not get knocked off a ladder by a falling object. Secure tree limbs or any object in the work area that could fall and strike you or the ladder.
Observing the above principles will help avoid ladder related injuries we know occur from the following causes and stated rates:
Source: Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety
For more information on ladder safety please visit the National Ladder Institute:
and the revised OSHA standard for ladder use in general industry:
If you have questions about working at heights, you can also call EHS at (608) 265-5000 and ask to speak to someone with the Workplace Safety Program.