(Editor’s Note: In today’s Thursday Feature, we take a closer look at one of the most common and frequently used tools in any material handling operation … the ladder.)
We use ladders so often that we tend to take them for granted. But when you are in need of a ladder and don’t have one — or have the wrong size for the job at hand — you quickly learn to appreciate them.
When buying a new ladder, it’s important to consider a few simple factors to make sure you are choosing the right ladder for the job. Here are some simple steps you can use to guarantee you always get the ladder you need.
Step 1 — Choose the Right Ladder Style
There are many different styles of ladders, each of which is designed to keep people when working at elevated heights.
Stepladders have a set of steps on one side and a support brace on the other, both of which are tied together with a hinge that allows the ladder to be easily folded for storage. This is the most common ladder for painting and small jobs at relatively low heights.
Step stools typically have only one or two steps and are relatively short in height. They are used to access the lowest heights.
Straight ladders have are leaned against a wall or building.
Extension ladders have two or more retracting segments that can be locked together for stability, as well as rubber or soft plastic feet for a secure grip with the ground. These types of ladders, which usually are leaned against a wall, are commonly used to access roofs and higher areas.
Step 2 — Choose the Proper Height
The ladder you use should be tall enough to reach the area you want to access. Extension ladders should be 7 to 10 feet longer than the highest support or contact point, such as a wall or roof line. This allows enough length for proper setup, overlap of ladder sections, height restrictions of the highest standing level, and when appropriate, extension of the ladder above the roof line. The highest standing level is four rungs down from the top.
On stepladders, the highest safe standing level is two steps down from the top. If you go higher than that, you risk losing your balance and falling. The maximum safe reaching height is about 4 feet higher than the height of the ladder. So, for example, if you are painting an 8-foot ceiling, you can safely use a four foot ladder.
Step 3 — Duty Rating
Ladders are graded to support a maximum allowable weight. Most ladders come in five different duty ratings, depending on their grade and type. A duty rating is the maximum safe load for the ladder and is described in terms of pounds, such as 300 lbs. It should take into account body weight, clothing and the weight of the tools or other materials being carried by the person.
Ladders are also built to handle demands of various applications. For example, a ladder used on a construction site typically will be bounced around and beat up more than a ladder used in a warehouse. So its duty rating should be higher.
Workers should consider both the weight that the ladder will support and how the ladder will be used when selecting the proper duty rating.
Step 4 — Ladder Material
The final decision when buying a new ladder is the type of material that it is made out of. The most common types of ladders are aluminum and fiberglass. Both have characteristics that make them the better choice for particular applications.
For example, if the ladder is going to be used in an area where it could potentially come into contact with live electrical wiring, fiberglass probably would be the best choice. But if the ladder is going to be used for routine tasks and needs to be more lightweight so that it can be stored and transported more easily, aluminum might be the better option.
OSHA Ladder Safety Recommendations
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers these recommendations to prevent falls from ladders:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.