Don’t take unnecessary risks with ladders. You have options. Follow these top ladder safety tips.

While they might appear to be an everyday tool, ladders can be extremely dangerous if used improperly. There are over 300 fatalities and over 500,000 injuries involving ladders every year. With safety in mind, we’ve compiled key questions to consider the next time you go to grab a ladder to complete a task.

1. Is a ladder really the best option for this task?
When working on a task that involves heights, your first instinct might be to use a ladder. Instead, you should consider if a different piece of equipment is more suitable and enables you to complete the task in a safer manner. For example, if a task requires the use of both hands while standing at height, a standard A-frame, step ladder, or extension ladder should not be used. Such tasks, involving work at heights, should instead be completed with a platform-ladder, mobile stairs, a ramp, or a long handheld tool—all of which are safer alternatives to a ladder. Additionally, you should consider the physical and environmental conditions of a work area, as a ladder should never be placed on uneven, unstable, or slippery ground, or in an area in which it might be bumped by others working in the area.

Other questions to consider before selecting a ladder (or a ladder alternative) include:

  • How much time is required to complete the task?
  • How many workers will need to use the equipment?
  • Will the equipment need to be repositioned during the task?
  • What weight and types of tools will be needed to complete the task?
  • Will heavy or bulky items need to be lifted or positioned?
  • What is the height of the work area or task and will workers need fall protection?

Many companies have recognized the dangers of ladders and have implemented “ladders last” policies as a way to reduce workplace injuries and increase efficiency. In this regard, C&W Services’ policy is to limit the use of ladders to tasks such as accessing a roof, mezzanine, or scaffolding, or for performing minor, short-duration maintenance tasks that require the use of only one arm/hand, e.g., caulking, touching-up paint, and inspecting gutters.

CW Services, formerly UNICCO, offers top safety tips.

2. How/why do most ladder falls occur?
Prior to using a ladder, C&W Services employees are required to “Take5”to review how most ladder incidents occur and to make sure they have taken the necessary steps to avoid such incidents.

Overreaching by the user is one of the leading causes of falls from ladders. To prevent this, ensure that the user maintains three points of contact with the ladder at all times. This means that two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, should always be in contact with the ladder. The user should also follow the belt buckle rule: keep your belt buckle positioned between the side rails at all times so you maintain center of gravity over the ladder. If the work can’t be reached easily, it’s important to take the extra time to reposition the ladder or to get a different ladder or tool for the job. Always maintain your balance and never take any unnecessary risks by overreaching.

A second major source of ladder injuries is caused by missing a step while ascending or descending. In fact, about 20 percent of ladder injuries occur when the user misses the bottom step while descending. To stay safe, users should take their time when ascending or descending and should always inspect their ladder before use.

Finally, as part of the Take5 process, a user should review their surroundings prior to setting up a ladder. A ladder should never be placed on a slippery, uneven, or unstable surface. Extreme caution should be exercised when using a ladder in a busy or heavily trafficked area, as it’s at risk for being bumped by a person, cart, or vehicle. If a ladder must be used in a heavily trafficked area, always barricade the ladder, use a spotter, post signs, and make the ladder area highly visible.

C&W Services, part of Cushman & Wakfield, provides the best safety tips from their team of subject matter experts.

3. With safety in mind, what ladder design is best for this task?
While ladders can be dangerous, the last decade has seen many improvements in ladder safety. When ordering new equipment, it’s important to review your options and not simply purchase the same old ladder. Taking the time to purchase the proper ladder will pay for itself in reducing ladder-related injuries.

Some alternative ladder designs and safety features to consider include:

  • Platform & Podium Ladders with High Waist Guards — Traditional step ladders are unsafe if the user is working from the top two steps or if the work requires the use of both hands. Similar safety concerns exist for standard extension ladders. In contrast, a platform ladder gives the user a wide platform to stand on, while the frame and high waist guard grant additional support when working with both hands
  • An Aerial Safety Cage – This attachment for platform ladders enables a user to work from inside a fully compliant cage enclosure. When coupled with a wide base and outriggers for increased stability, these ladders are almost impossible to tip over.
  • Leveling Outriggers — When there is no possible alternative to placing a ladder on an uneven surface, attaching leveling outriggers to each side of a ladder helps keep the rungs level and the ladder at the proper lean angle. Outriggers can double the ladder’s base width, increasing side-tip stability by over 600%.
  • Special Use Ladders — Werner “LeanSafe” and Tripod Ladders offer special features. The LeanSafe ladder is versatile because it can be used as a step-ladder or be leaned against a wall, while the tripod ladder can fit where other ladders can’t, making it easier to work in tight spaces.
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