The Definitive Guide: Ladder Inspection Toolbox Talk

Ladder OSHA rules

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Importance of ladder inspections

Working on and around ladders can be a hazardous endeavor. Ladder incidents are a major source of injuries among workers, and many of the injuries are serious enough to require time off the job.

To minimize injuries from ladders, it is essential that they are inspected before use. Ladders should be inspected by a Competent Person for visible defects before use, periodically, and after any occurrence that could affect their safe use.

According to OSHA, a ‘Competent Person’ is defined as someone who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surrounding area, working conditions that are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate any issues.

General inspection parameters

It is important to note that ladders must be used only for the purpose for which they were designed; doing so helps to prevent the possibility of creating structural defects which would not otherwise occur.

Remember that ladders must not be loaded beyond the maximum intended load for which they were built, nor beyond their manufacturer’s rated capacity. If unsafe practices are observed, the ladder should be inspected immediately and potentially removed from service.

Other visual inspection items to note include:

  • Ladders must be maintained to be free of oil, grease, and other slipping hazards.
  • Ladder components must have a smooth surface in order to prevent the snagging of clothing and injury from punctures and lacerations.
  • The areas around both the top and bottom of ladders must be kept clear. This prevents someone from falling or tripping on miscellaneous items.
  • Ladders must not be tied or fastened together to provide longer sections unless they are specifically designed for such use.
  • A metal spreader or locking device must be provided on each stepladder to hold the front and back sections in an open position when the ladder is being used.
  • Ladder rungs, cleats, and steps must be parallel, level, and uniformly spaced when the ladder is in position for use. The rungs of individual-rung ladders and step ladders must be shaped as such that an employee’s feet cannot slide off of the end of the rungs.
  • Rungs and steps of portable metal ladders and fixed metal ladders must be corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid-resistant material, or otherwise treated to minimize slipping.
  • When two or more separate ladders are used to reach an elevated work area, the ladders must be offset with a platform or landing between the ladders, except when portable ladders are used to gain access to fixed ladders (such as those on utility towers, billboards, and other structures where the bottom of the fixed ladder is elevated to limit access).

Ladder inspection toolbox talk

Weight requirements and testing

Ladders must be capable of supporting a certain amount of weight without failure, depending on the maximum load given by the manufacturer.

For each self-supporting portable ladder:

  • Must support at least four times the maximum intended load. The exceptions to this are extra-heavy-duty type 1A metal or plastic ladders, which must sustain at least 3.3 times the maximum intended load.
  • The ability of this ladder-type to sustain the loads indicated must be determined by applying the load to the ladder in a downward vertical direction.

For each portable ladder that is not self-supporting:

  • Must support at least four times the maximum intended load. The exceptions to this are extra-heavy-duty type 1A metal or plastic ladders, which must sustain at least 3.3 times the maximum intended load.
  • The ability of this ladder-type to sustain the loads indicated must be determined by applying the load to the ladder in a downward vertical direction when the ladder is placed at an angle of 75.5° from the horizontal plane.

For each fixed ladder:

  • Must support at least two loads of 250lbs. each, concentrated between any two consecutive attachments (the number and position of additional concentrated loads of 250lbs. each, determined by anticipated usage of the ladder, must also be included), plus anticipated loads caused by ice buildup, winds, rigging, and impact loads resulting from the use of ladder safety devices.
  • Each step or rung must be capable of supporting a single concentrated load of 250lbs. applied in the middle of the step or rung.

Spacing and measurements

The measurements of the rungs, cleats, and steps of the following ladder types between the center lines of the rungs, cleats, and steps are as follows:

  • Portable (except as provided below) and fixed ladders (including individual rung/step ladders): must not be spaced less than 10 inches apart, or more than 14 inches apart.
  • Step stools: must not be less than 8 inches apart, or more than 12 inches apart.
  • The base section of extension trestle ladders must not be less than 8 inches apart, or more than 18 inches apart (rung spacing on the extension section must not be less than 6 inches or more than 12 inches).

Ladder safety

Procedures for removing ladders from service

If after inspection, a ladder is determined to be unsafe or non-conforming, the ladder must be removed from service immediately. Portable or fixed ladders with structural defects, such as broken or missing rungs, cleats, or steps, broken or split rails, corroded components, or other faulty or defective components, must be withdrawn from service until repaired.

The requirement to withdraw a defective ladder from service is that it should be immediately tagged with “Do Not Use” or similar language and marked in a manner that readily identifies it as defective or blocked (such as with a plywood attachment that spans several rungs). Ladder repairs must restore the ladder to a condition meeting its original design criteria before the ladder is returned to use.

It is easy to overlook basic safety procedures on items such as ladders, but as an organization, it’s important to cover all aspects of potentially hazardous work.

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