‹ Back to Columns

Don’t Forget Ladder Safety

Juliette Garesche

The hazards of molten metal and silica are forefront in the minds of most metalcasters, however, there are many lesser emphasized regulations that OSHA enforces. Falls from heights are one of OSHA’s Fatal Four, accounting for 384 of the 991 deaths in 2016 (all U.S. industries combined).  Every year there are over 136,000 Emergency Room visits related to ladder injuries, so let’s take a closer look at the ladder safety requirements.

Every foundry that has at least one ladder or step stools, is subject to the General Industry regulations in 29 CFR 1910.23. This article covers some of the basic information about selecting, inspecting, setting up and using portable ladders and step-stools but it will not cover ladder design or permanent ladder installations. If you select a portable ladder with an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approval, it will meet the required design criteria.

Most portable ladders are made of wood, aluminum, steel or fiberglass. When selecting a ladder, you’ll want to consider height, conductivity, and the rated load limit. If you’re working on or near electricity, a metal ladder is not appropriate. Users must ensure that their weight and the weight of all their tools and equipment will not exceed the rated load capacity posted on the ladder.

Ladders must be given a thorough and documented inspection at least annually. Each ladder in your facility should be given a unique inventory number, and records should be kept documenting the last date of inspection.  Furthermore, every time a ladder is used it should be given a precursory inspection. Ladders should be inspected to ensure they meet the following criteria:

    There is a sticker with the load limit legibly printed on the ladder or step stool.
    Ladders are free of visible defects such as cracks, missing rung(s), broken cleats, etc.
    Ropes, brakes, cleats and other parts should be in good working order.
    Rungs and handrails are free of grease and dirt, both to prevent slipping and to allow for inspection.
    Rungs must have a corrugated, knurled, or dimpled texture, or be coated with a skid resistant material to reduce the possibility of slipping.
    Ladders must be free of puncture and laceration hazards.
    Choose a ladder that will reach at least 3 feet above the upper level you’re accessing if you’ll be dismounting. The extra height provides a hand hold while dismounting.

If a ladder does not meet all these criteria, it must be removed from use and immediately tagged as “Dangerous: Do Not Use”. The ladder can be repaired or it should be destroyed prior to disposal so no one else is tempted to use the broken ladder.

When moving a long straight ladder or extension ladder to the site of use, have one person at each end of the ladder. If you have control of the ends of the ladder, there won’t be surprises when rounding corners. The ladder feet must be on a level, stable, non-slip surface and the feet should be placed one foot from the wall, for every four feet of rise. The feet of the ladder must be on the ground or on the floor, never on a table, box, bucket, or other raised surface to extend the height of the ladder. If you set up a ladder where there is vehicle or foot traffic you must place traffic cones, barricades or caution tape around the base to protect the ladder before you ascend. Preferably you’ll also have a person present to warn others and to guard the ladder from being bumped. Finally, if you’re using a step-ladder, ensure that the spreaders or cross-braces are fully extended and locked.

During use, the following criteria should be met:

    Only one person on a ladder at a time!
    Use the ladder only for the purpose it is designed.
    Always face the ladder, whether ascending or descending.
    Maintain 3-points of contact while on a ladder. Only move one hand or one foot at a time. Keep your hands free by hoisting tools and materials after you’re on the higher level.
    Never move a ladder while a person is on it. (You would not believe what people try!)
    The center of your body (belt buckle) should always be between the two side rails. If you can’t reach, descend, move the ladder and ascend again.
    Follow the directions on the ladder. The top two steps or rungs are rarely allowed to be used for standing.

Mobile ladder stands are sets of stairs, with a platform, that can be rolled where you need to access a higher level. If the mobile ladder stand has a step or platform at 4 feet or higher, it must have 36” tall handrails, with mid-rails on the sides, and guard rails around the platform. Special use applications may have movable gates or a chain. The wheels or castors must impede ladder movement while the ladder is in use. The unit should be designed to prevent tipping. If it is more than 10 feet tall, the platform must have toeboards on three sides, and additional stabilizers may be required.

If you have fixed ladders at your facility, refer to section 1910.23(d)(1) for those requirements.

Remember that ladder safety includes selecting the right ladder for the job, inspecting the ladder before each use, setting the ladder up correctly, protecting it from bumps, and following safe use practices.

The Center for Disease Control records indicate that 43% of fatal falls in the last decade have involved a ladder. Injuries from ladders can be severe, but they are preventable, so please use these precautions at work and at home so you don’t become a statistic.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the June 2018 issue of Modern Casting