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Avoiding Common Commercial Ladder Mistakes

April 5, 2024
Commercial ladders are well-designed products, but their safe use depends on you.

On OSHA’s list of citations for 2023, ladder safety made No. 3 . This perennial favorite is always near the top, which helps explain why there are about 300,000 ladder injuries in the USA every year.

In its simplest form a ladder consists of two rails connected by rungs. This is not a complicated device to use. But 300,000 people suffer injuries related to ladder (mis)use every year. How can you avoid being one of the statistics?

Ladder selection:

  • Use commercial grade ladders. Compared to their bargain-priced counterparts, they are just better made. Everything from rail thickness to rivet strength is better. They are made to hold up to rigorous daily use and remain safe to use.
  • If you see an aluminum ladder, consider it “not a ladder.” While these are fine for most other trades, their conductive rails present a safety problem for electricians.
  • Perform a length assessment. Assessing the ladder lengths needed for upcoming projects or for maintenance of installed equipment (say, in a production plant) takes time. But it’s worth the investment because you can eliminate one of the major causes of unsafe ladder use, which is using a shorter ladder than the one you need because that’s all you have.
  • Don’t be afraid to pay extra for accessories. Special feet, ladder wings, tool lifting systems, ladder pads, and so forth can greatly reduce risk if used correctly for situations that call for them.

Setup:

  • Perform a site evaluation. Look for hazards, such as loose gravel, uneven surfaces, and foot traffic, so you can identify and implement protective measures against them.
  • Ensure your ladder feet are the correct ones for the particular application. Commercial grade ladders typically have provisions for changing ladder feet. For example, you might need anti-skid ladder feet (with non-metallic footpads) to work on a smooth surface, or you might want more of a metal cleat style if you must stand your ladder on soil or gravel.
  • Take the time to go through the process of getting the correct run/rise angle, test the side to side stability, and test the front to back stability.

Usage:

  • Don’t carry your tools up with you. Use a rope and bucket system or something similar. Keep in mind that equipment power cords and portable cords are not intended to be used as lifting means; this can render them unsafe — and maybe not in a way you will readily see.
  • Don’t always look up; also look at your feet. Move your foot while watching where you put it, and then look up. This helps you avoid having your foot miss a rung. A missed run can result in banging your shin or coming off the ladder altogether.
  • Don’t reach to the side so much that your torso leans that way. This will shift your center of gravity outside your base of support and leave you in an unbalanced position. Your risk of falling is very high in this position, and, in fact, it’s the main reason people fall off of ladders.

The tips mentioned above address fairly common mistakes made with ladders. In an OSHA-compliant company, you would rarely see these mistakes being made because OSHA requires training [1926.1060]. If your company has had some close calls with ladder “accidents” (negative outcomes resulting from unsafe acts), conduct a careful review of Subpart X in OSHA 1926.

Safe ladder use requires accounting for many variables and not taking “time-saving” shortcuts. The laws of physics don’t change due to wishful thinking. The gist of safe ladder usage is:

  1. Select the right ladder and accessories for the job.
  2. Set the ladder securely.
  3. Don’t do anything that will put your center of gravity outside your base of support or reduce your ability to hold onto those ladder rungs.

Regardless of job pressures, schedules, or deadlines, there is always enough time to ensure ladder safety practices are being followed. Once someone takes a lethal plunge, there is no do-over.

About the Author

Mark Lamendola

Mark is an expert in maintenance management, having racked up an impressive track record during his time working in the field. He also has extensive knowledge of, and practical expertise with, the National Electrical Code (NEC). Through his consulting business, he provides articles and training materials on electrical topics, specializing in making difficult subjects easy to understand and focusing on the practical aspects of electrical work.

Prior to starting his own business, Mark served as the Technical Editor on EC&M for six years, worked three years in nuclear maintenance, six years as a contract project engineer/project manager, three years as a systems engineer, and three years in plant maintenance management.

Mark earned an AAS degree from Rock Valley College, a BSEET from Columbia Pacific University, and an MBA from Lake Erie College. He’s also completed several related certifications over the years and even was formerly licensed as a Master Electrician. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and past Chairman of the Kansas City Chapters of both the IEEE and the IEEE Computer Society. Mark also served as the program director for, a board member of, and webmaster of, the Midwest Chapter of the 7x24 Exchange. He has also held memberships with the following organizations: NETA, NFPA, International Association of Webmasters, and Institute of Certified Professional Managers.

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