A Short Guide to Ladder Safety

Learn 3 key steps to follow before, during, and after using a ladder

What is Ladder Safety?

Ladder safety is a key aspect of fall prevention. According to the CDC, 81% of fall injuries, which is the leading source of fatalities among construction site workers, involve the use of ladders. As such, it’s important to remember and follow two of the common ladder safety best practices, which are 4 to 1 rule and the three points of contact rule.

When evaluating ladder safety, two things must be considered: the ladder type and the ladder height. Since fixed ladders are already securely attached to building structures, they are generally safer than portable ladders. As for ladder height, of course, the higher the ladder, the higher the risk. Keep in mind that any work performed at 2 meters or above is considered working at height and requires sufficient fall protection, such as a safety harness or a landing area.

4 to 1 Rule for Ladder Safety

The 4 to 1 rule for ladder safety requires setting up the ladder in a way that for every 4 feet of ladder height, the base of the ladder must be 1 foot away from the building, wall, or surface it is leaning against. This means that if a ladder is 16 feet tall, the base of the ladder should be placed four feet away from the surface it is leaning against, one foot away as the ladder height increases.

Three Point Contact Rule

The three-point contact rule is a safety practice that means that either both feet and one hand or both hands and one foot should be in contact with the ladder at all times. The three points of contact must be maintained while working on top of the ladder. Possible points of contact are hands, knees, and feet. Each hand, knee, or foot counts as one point of contact.

Ensuring Ladder Safety in 3 Basic Steps

Use this template to inspect if a ladder was set up and used properly during operations. For more tips on ladder safety, inspection, set up, and usage, check out the 3-step guide below:

Step 1: Before Using a Ladder: Is It Safe?

In addition to choosing the right tool for the right job, you should be confident that the tool is safe. Before using a ladder, ask yourself if you can perform the task without working from heights. If not possible, choose the correct ladder for the required task and height.

Check for tags and labels to know the use case of the ladder. Inspect all parts for cracks, damages, bends, or corrosion. Braces or ladder feet should be stable. Steps and rungs must be free from oils and dirt. Locks, bolts, rivets, and other components should work perfectly. In case of any defects, label the ladder “Do Not Use” and report it to authorized people for repair or replacement.

Step 2: Setting Up a Ladder: Should We Work?

There is no point in having safe-to-operate ladders if external conditions like weather, nearby hazards, and setup are not assessed. These factors should be considered before deciding whether to commence work for the day.

First things first, always conduct a pre-start meeting or toolbox talk with your team to discuss all worksite hazards present before starting working. All workers should be trained and qualified and aware of the emergency procedures if something goes wrong when operating ladders.

Avoid working on a ladder during windy or wet conditions as this increases the chance of a ladder collapsing or causing slips and falls. Next, look for overhead power cables which could pose electrical hazards. Do not use a metal ladder if you think your work will use electrical equipment. Lastly, set your ladder only on even surfaces and use a firm level footing.

Your team should always keep the shift supervisor updated on any high-risks observed.

Step 3: Climbing Up a Ladder: Are You Ready?

More often than not, we tend to forget the proper ways of doing things when we think we are good at it. Using a ladder can seem second nature to most, however, improper climbing techniques or even a slight distraction can result in falls, serious injury, or death.

Ladder Safety Checklist

Use this template to conduct safety checks by testing the ladder’s functionality and reliability. Ensure that the ladder has gone through proper inspection (before and after use) and identify defects that may cause potential risks such as falls.

Create your own Ladder Safety Checklist

Build from scratch or choose from our collection of free, ready-to-download, and customizable templates.

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Safety Tips for Climbing Ladders

Here are 7 simple tips to help you minimize the risk of slipping or falling when climbing a ladder:

  1. Be attentive by watching your steps.
  2. Always keep yourself centered
  3. Use three points of contact. The climber must have two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand in contact with the ladder steps, rungs and/or side rails at all times.
  4. Do not carry any loads or objects in either hand that can interfere with a firm grip on the ladder.
  5. Do not pull, lean, stretch, or make sudden movements.
  6. Always use slip-resistant footwear.
  7. Observe the one-person-at-a-time rule.

Read more on general ladder safety rules.

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Know More About Ladder Safety

Practice ladder safety through these industry-specific topics:

Working at Height

Despite being one of the biggest causes of preventable work injuries and fatalities around the world, working at height is common in the construction industry. That being said, there are ways to mitigate the risk associated with working at height. Some general tips are providing quality equipment and gear for workers to use, training them on ladder safety and emergency procedures, and using working-at-height checklists to increase their awareness of the safety hazards involved in such work.

Fall Protection

Fall protection could be the difference between life and death, injury and fatality when it comes to working at height. In 2019, a Coachella worker fell to his death while setting up the stage, perhaps due to the lack of fall protection, as eyewitnesses claimed that he was not using a safety harness even while working at a height of 60 feet. Though it can be tempting to say that an incident such as this will not happen again, using fall protection is just the first step in ensuring construction site safety.

Roof Safety

A defective ladder or safety harness is just one of many hazards faced by those who work on rooftops. Roofing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the construction industry, with falls from roofs accounting for 34% of all fall deaths. Aside from fall hazards such as an improperly placed ladder and faulty safety harness, other common roof safety hazards are power tools, electrical hazards (specifically power lines), and extreme temperatures.

Construction Risk Assessment

Construction risk assessment is a critical examination of health and safety hazards at a construction site. One of these hazards, as stated previously, is an improperly placed ladder. While it may seem like such a minor detail in your site’s overall safety plan, following the 4 to 1 rule when setting up ladders and maintaining three points of contact when using them will certainly lower the site’s risk profile.

Construction Safety

Of the ten most violated OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards, three belong to the construction industry, with ladders being one of them. OSHA has even released a publication entitled “Falling Off Ladders Can Kill: Use Them Safely” containing visual illustrations of ladder safety best practices. As ladder safety is but a single component of construction safety, using a digital tool to capture, identify, and manage all possible hazards would be ideal.

FAQs About Ladder Safety

Yes, OSHA does require ladder safety training for employees who use ladders on the job. The OSHA regulations state that employers must provide safety training to all employees who use ladders or stairways so that they are able to proactively recognize hazards related to them. This also helps ensure that employees follow safe ladder practices while on the job.

Here are the steps to tie off a ladder to ensure safety:

  1. Choose a secure anchor point – Look for a solid structure or immovable object to anchor the ladder to, such as a sturdy tree or a building column. It should also be at the same height as the top of the ladder.
  2. Secure the ladder – Wrap a rope or a firm strap around the ladder at a point about one-third of the way up from the bottom, then tie it securely to the anchor point using a knot such as a bowline or square knot. Make sure the ladder is level and stable before climbing.
  3. Add additional support – For added stability, you can also tie a second rope or strap around the ladder at a point near the top and secure it to the anchor point.
  4. Test for stability – Once the ladder is tied off, test it for stability by gently shaking it to make sure it is secure.
SafetyCulture Content Team
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SafetyCulture Content Team
SafetyCulture Content Team
The SafetyCulture content team is dedicated to providing high-quality, easy-to-understand information to help readers understand complex topics and improve workplace safety and quality. Our team of writers have extensive experience at producing articles for different fields such as safety, quality, health, and compliance.