Toolbox Talk: Ladder Safety

By Published On: April 8, 2022

Portable Ladder Safety

Ladders are probably the most common tool you will find on a construction site. Once we get into the technical definition it might even be fair to say most homeowners have one. Ranging from 3′ to 40′ tall, and several different configurations, these things are versitile to say the least. They also put the user in dangerous situations, so lets clear some things up.

Portable Ladders – can be moved around the construction site and many different types and sizes.

Fixed Ladders – Permanently attached to a building for regular access.

Site Built Ladders – Usually made of wood, for a specific access point.

Portable ladders are very common on construction sites. But don’t let their simplicity fool you, the vast majority of injuries on site are from ladder falls. It is important to select the correct ladder for your task, and respect the rules for that ladder as well.

10 Safety Tips

  1. Never step on top of an A Frame Ladder. The high center of gravity can cause it to easily tip, and there is nothing to grab onto.
  2. Maintain 3 points of contact when climbing and descending: 2 hands + 1 foot or 2 feet + 1 hand.
  3. Set up extension ladders at a 4:1 pitch.
    • For every 4’ of wall height, the base of the ladder should be 1’ away.
    • Example: A 20’ wall, the base of your ladder should be 5’ away. If it is more than 5, the ladder could slide out, if it is less the ladder is too steep and could tip as you climb higher.
  4. Ladders should extend 3’ above the platform you are entering and exiting. (i.e. getting on a roof) This gives you something to hold onto as you move around the ladder.
  5. While standing on the ladder, do not lean past the side rails. Your belt buckle should stay within the rails.
  6. Inspect your ladder before each use for damages
    • Broken or missing rungs
    • Damaged side rails
    • Missing or damaged feet
  7. Check the area around where the ladder will be set up to ensure there are no other hazards
    • Electric or phone lines
    • Bee hives, wasps (more common than you think)
    • Loose/slippery materials (gravel, ice, saw dust)
  8. Ensure the ground is safe for a proper set up. Level, no debris or sharp objects, clear away snow/ice/loose stone.
  9. Do not use a step ladder in a partially closed position, or leaned against a wall. Step ladders are self-supporting and work best when fully opened and locked.
  10. Do not set up a ladder where others could easily bump into it. Set up barricades as needed to keep traffic away.
    • If you have to work near a door, lock the door or make a sign to prevent someone slamming the door into your ladder.

Weight Ratings

As important as the set-up is, choosing the correct ladder for the task is equally important. Keep in mind the user and the tools/material that will be on the ladder. A weak ladder will result in collapse, which usually comes with injury.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Accidents happen when we get complacent. Working on ladders all day tends to lessen the fear of falling, but it still hurts when you hit the ground. More serious injuries happen from ladders less than 10′ tall, then from tall ladders. The misconception is “it’s not that high” when in actuality the physics of a fall from 10′ puts your head lower than your feet. Ladders should be used with respect no matter how tall they are.

Questions For You

  1. How often do you inspect your ladders?
  2. Have you ever been on a roof with a ladder that was a bit too short? Pretty scary when you cant find it.
  3. What weight rating are the ladders you have? Is it enough?

Here are a few more Toolbox Talks related to ladders: Personal Fall Arrest, Pump Jack Scaffolding, Fall Protection


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