March is Ladder Safety Month which serves as a great opportunity to remind our policyholders that there are many ways to prevent dangerous ladder accidents from occurring.

Workers who use ladders risk permanent injury or death from falls and electrocutions. These hazards can be eliminated or substantially reduced by following good safety practices. While ladders can be very useful tools on the jobsite, proper safe work practices must be followed to avoid injury or possibly even death. Each year, more than 500,000 people are treated in emergency rooms, walk-in clinics, doctors’ offices and other related medical settings resulting from a failure to follow basic safe work practices when using ladders. OSHA estimates that, on average, approximately 202,066 serious (lost-workday) injuries and 345 fatalities occur annually.

There are several reasons why people are injured or killed each year as a result of accidents related to ladder usage. Some of the main causes include, sliding of the ladder base, and the ladder itself tipping sideways. Many people also sustain back injury as a result of improper carrying and/or setting up of the ladders.

Plan ahead to get the job done safely! Workers must be trained in the selection and safe use of the ladders they are using. Different styles of ladders are designed to keep workers safe and productive when climbing or standing. Using the wrong style of ladder or simply ignoring the limitations of climbing equipment can result in a fall or serious injury. Workers should be advised to consider the weight which will be on the ladder, including tools and equipment and the work application in order to select the proper grade of ladder.

Before using a ladder, a competent person must visually the ladders before use for any defects such as: missing rungs, bolts, cleats, screws and loose components. Where a ladder has these or other defects, it must be immediately marked as defective or tagged with “Do Not Use” or similar language.

When setting up and using a ladder, workers must allow sufficient room to step off the ladder safely by keeping the area around the bottom and the top of the ladder clear of equipment, materials and tools. If access is obstructed, secure the top of the ladder to a rigid support that will not deflect, and add a grasping device to allow workers safe access. The base of the ladder must be set so that the bottom sits securely and so both side rails are evenly supported. The ladder rails should be square to the structure against which it is leaning with both footpads placed securely on a stable and level surface. Ensure that the ladder’s dogs or pawls are secured before climbing.

Set the ladder at the proper angle. When a ladder is leaned against a wall, the bottom of the ladder should be one-quarter of the ladder’s working length away from the wall. For access to an elevated work surface, extend the top of the ladder three feet above that surface or secure the ladder at its top. Also, when using a ladder in a high-activity area, secure it to prevent movement and use a barrier to redirect workers and equipment. If the ladder is placed in front of a door, always block off the doo

Finally, look for hazards in the work area. Before starting work, the area should be surveyed for potential hazards, such as energized overhead power lines. Ladders shall have nonconductive side rails if they are used where the worker or the ladder could contact exposed energized electrical equipment. Keep all ladders and other tools at least 10 feet away from any power lines.

Remember, employers are obligated to train workers in safe ladder usage.

Visit the Safety Library to download our Safety Alerts: Ladder Safety and Ladder Selection.