Ladders and Stairways
Ladders and stairways are common sources of injuries and fatalities among construction workers. OSHA estimates there are more than 24,000 injuries and as many as 36 fatalities per year
due to falls on stairways and ladders used in construction. Nearly half of these injuries were serious enough to require time off the job.
Employers must train each employee exposed to hazards while using ladders or stairways. The training program must train each employee how to recognize ladder and stairway hazards and
minimize the hazards. Employees should be trained by a competent person in the following areas:
- nature of fall hazards in the work area
- correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, and disassembling the fall protection systems to be used
- proper construction, use, placement, and care in handling of all stairways and ladders
- maximum intended load-carrying capacities of ladders
Employers must retrain each employee as necessary to maintain their understanding and knowledge on the safe use and construction of ladders and stairs.
Falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (2012), 14 percent of all work-related
deaths are due to falls, with 20 percent of these deaths being related to the use of ladders.
Ladders need to be inspected by a qualified person for visible defects before each use. While in use, a ladder may go through conditions that may impact its integrity. A ladder with
compromised integrity will not be safe for use.
Recommended precautions to protect employees from falls from ladders include:
- Use the Quarter Length Rule: Place the ladder's base a distance away from the wall or upper support equal to one-quarter the effective working length of the ladder. This represents about a
4:1 height to base ratio. That will approximate the optimum resistance to sliding, strength of the ladder, and balance of the climber. The angle of the ladder will be about 75 degrees.
- Before using a ladder, be sure to read and follow all the labels and markings on the ladder.
- Avoid electrical hazards. Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.
- Always inspect the ladder prior to using it. If the ladder is damaged, it must be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.
- Always maintain a 3-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing. Keep your body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder while climbing.
- Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks or hooks) for their designed purposes.
- Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet.
- Do not use a self-supporting ladder (e.g., step ladder) as a single ladder or in a partially closed position.
- Do not use the next-to-the-top or top step/rung of a ladder as a step/rung unless it was designed for that purpose.
- Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface, unless it has been secured (top or bottom) to prevent displacement.
- Do not place a ladder on boxes, barrels or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.
- Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
- An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend at least 3 feet above the point of support. Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder.
- A ladder placed in any location where it can be displaced by other work activities must be secured to prevent displacement or a barricade must be erected to keep traffic away from the ladder.
- Be sure that all locks on an extension ladder are properly engaged.
- Do not exceed the maximum load rating of the ladder. Be aware of the ladder’s load rating and of the weight it is supporting, including the weight of any tools or equipment. Never load ladders beyond the maximum intended load or beyond the manufacturer's rated capacity.
- Be sure the load rating can support the weight of the user, including materials and tools.
- Avoid using ladders with metallic components near electrical work and overhead power lines.
For a complete course on ladder safety, take OSHAcademy Course 603.
For more information on ladder safety see OSHA’s
Falling Off Ladders Can Kill: Use Them Safely, Reducing Falls in Construction: Safe Use of Extension Ladders, and
Reducing Falls in Construction: Safe Use of Stepladders.
Slips, trips and falls on stairways are a major source of injuries and fatalities among construction workers. The rules covering stairways and their components generally depend on how and
when stairs are used.
Specifically, there are rules for stairs used during construction and stairs used temporarily during construction, as well as rules governing stair rails and handrails.
The following requirements apply to all stairways used during construction:
- Make sure there is a stairway at points of access where there is an elevation break of 19 inches or more.
- Stairways with four or more risers, or higher than 30 inches, must be equipped with at least one handrail.
- For stairways that will not be a permanent part of the building under construction make sure landings are at least 30 inches deep and 22 inches wide (76 x 56 cm) at every 12 feet (3.7 m) or less of vertical rise.
- Install stairways at 30 to 50 degrees from the horizontal.
- Do not exceed variations in riser height or stair tread depth more than 1/4 inch in any stairway system, including any foundation structure used as one or more treads of the stairs.
- The platform for doors and gates opening directly onto a stairway must extend at least 20 inches (51 cm) beyond the swing of the door or gate.
- Secure metal pan landings and metal pan treads in place before filling.
- Make sure stairway parts are free of dangerous projections such as protruding nails.
- Correct slippery conditions on stairways.
- Do not use spiral stairways that will not be a permanent part of the structure.
For a complete course on stairway safety, take OSHAcademy Course 603.
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