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5 Safety Tips for Using Portable Ladders in the Workplace

Because portable ladders are so commonly used, both at work and at home, many employers assume that their employees are familiar with them and know how to use them properly. That's a bad assumption. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), improper use of portable ladders is a major source of injury both on and off the job. Adding insult to injury, improper use of portable ladders can also lead to OSHA citations under the Portable Wood Ladders and Portable Metal Ladders Standards .

Here are five safety tips to help you protect employees against injuries and your site against OSHA citations:

Tip 1: Block, Lock or Guard Ladders Used in Doorways or Passageways

Make sure that portable ladders used in doorways and hallways where passers-by pass by are secured or barricaded to prevent accidental movement or jostling. Even the slightest ladder movement can cause an employee on a ladder to lose balance. In high-traffic areas, set up cones or some other visible barricade when a portable ladder is in use.

Tip 2: Keep Reaching Distance Short

Overreaching is a common cause of portable ladder accidents. In addition to loss of balance, overreaching can cause muscle strains. To avoid injuries, employees should minimize the distance between themselves and the area they're trying to reach while standing on a ladder to no more than an arm's length. Also remind employees of the importance of selecting a ladder that's the appropriate height for the job. If work is to be performed above a drop ceiling, tell employees to consider the height of the work not the ceiling. The top of a ladder used to gain access to a roof should extend at least three feet above the point of support.

Tip 3: Keep at Least One Hand Free to Hold On

Tell employees to keep at least one hand free when climbing a ladder so they can grasp the ladder to maintain balance or keep themselves from tipping backward.

Tip 4: Put Ladder on Dry and Even Surfaces

Tell employee to make sure that the portable ladder rests on a surface that's both dry and flat before work begins. Wet surfaces may cause the ladder to slip, particularly when a load is added to it. An uneven surface can cause sudden and unexpected shifts in weight. Tell employees to use a wide platform that's securely in place to level the surface. This will prevent the ladder from shifting off the leveling material, or the material from falling over.

Tip 5: Remove Broken Ladders from Service Immediately

Immediately throw out or remove broken ladders and don't use them unless and until they've been repaired. Common defects to look out for include problems with the locking device and cracks in the rungs. When a ladder needs repairs, clearly mark it as being out of service so an employee doesn't unwittingly use it.