Fall hazards are among the leading causes of fatality in the workplace. In fact, it came 3rd in the Top 10 Most Cited Violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last year. It spawned a total of 4,797 violations. Even on the list of highest fines issued by OSHA against small companies, fall hazards came in 3rd.

While we hear of different fall accidents involving roofs, scaffolds and skyscraper windows, ladders account for a large fraction of fall-related deaths and injuries in different worksites. In the same list mentioned above, ladders were the 9th most cited violation, producing a total of 2,135 violations in 2007 alone. From farms to construction sites to shipyards, one too many workers have fallen prey to the many hazards of this useful equipment.

So it’s high time we get down to the standards of ladders. Read on to find out the regulations set by OSHA for portable ladders in the workplace.

Loads, Rungs and Angles

OSHA requires that self-supporting (foldout) and non-self-supporting (leaning) portable ladders be able to support at least four times the maximum intended load. Exceptions are given to plastic and extra-heavy-duty metal ladders. Such portable ladders must be able to support 3.3 times the maximum intended load.

When the portable ladder is in use, its rungs, steps or cleats must be parallel, level and uniformly spaced. Also, rungs must be spaced from 10 to 14 inches apart. In the case of extension trestle ladders, rungs must be spaced from 8 to 18 inches for the base and 6 to 12 inches on the extension section.

When positioning leaning or non-self-supporting ladders against a wall or other form of support, ensure that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is about ¼ the working length of the ladder. The angle must be about 1/8 the working length of the portable ladder when positioning a wooden ladder.

Before using a ladder, inspect it for oil, wet paint, grease or anything else that can cause slipping. When using wood ladders, make sure they are not coated with any opaque covering, except warning or identification labels on only one face of a side rail.

Before climbing up a metal ladder, make sure the rungs are corrugated, dimpled, knurled, coated with skid-resistant material. If this is not feasible, just ensure that it is slip-resistant. Inspect a wood ladder before using it by making sure it is free from splinters and sharp edges. Ensure that it is also free from decay, shake and compression failures.

Working on Ladders

Here are some safety measures you must follow when working on portable ladders:

Never work on a portable ladder with another person.

  • Always face the ladder when ascending or descending.
  • The top of the portable ladder must be placed with the two rails supported, unless it is equipped with a single support attachment.
  • Never tie or fasten ladders together to form longer sections. If the manufacturer allows extended uses, you must use the recommended hardware fittings for the specific ladders you’re using.
  • Never use ladders for other purposes they were intended by the manufacturer.

Maintenance of Portable Ladders

Before using a ladder, inspect it for defects or damage. Even if it’s in storage, make regular inspections of it to make sure that it is in good condition.

If a ladder tips over, immediately inspect it for dents and bends. Check also its hardware connections, as well as its rung-to-side-rail connections. If it is exposed to oil or grease, clean it right away with a solvent or steam cleaning.

If you find a ladder defected or damaged, immediately mark it and take it out of service. Only the manufacturer or a maintenance personnel should be allowed to repair a damaged ladder.

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