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Ladder Safety: OSHA Standard Requirements for Worker Safety

Written By Iniesta Estable on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 | 8:20 PM

A specific OSHA standard (1926 Subpart X) is dedicated to portable ladders and it contains detailed requirements all occupational health and safety officers must know in order to ensure worker safety. Moreover workers that use portable ladders must follow proper training on their safe use; the training courses need to provide both theoretical and practical information, and must apply to the specific typology of ladders in use. In fact there are many kinds of ladders for sale: extension ladders, step ladders, folding ladders and platform ladders being the most common and diffused.

The OSHA standard aims at preventing workers from falling from the high positions that can be reached during their activities; the most important requirements of the standard refer to the correct positioning of ladders in order to prevent in from slipping or falling. The side rails must extend at least 3 feet above the landing, and when it's not possible a rigid support and a grab device shall be used.

All components of ladders (steps, side rails, rungs, locking components, etc.) must be inspected before each use. All ladders must specify the maximum weight that it is designed to support: workers must not apply more than that weight (the standard specifies that portable ladders must be designed to support at least four times the maximum intended load, with the exception of the extra-heavy-duty ladders made of metal or plastic that must sustain 3.3 times that maximum load). A very important element in the positioning of non self-supporting ladders is the angle between them and the wall they lean against; that angle must be such that the working length of the ladder is about four times the horizontal distance from its foot and the wall. Rungs specifications refer to their spacing (greater at the base than at the extension section) and to the requirement that they must be skid resistant and so shaped that a worker's foot can't slide off (of course ladders must be kept free of slipping hazards such as grease, oil, etc.). During operations, the area around the top and bottom of the ladder must be kept clear in order to avoid the risk of someone banging into it when a worker is in a dangerous high position.

If a very high position must be reached, specifically designed devices must be used: for no reason different ladders can be fastened together to provide longer sections; when two or more separate ladders are used to reach an elevated work area, the ladders shall be offset with a platform or landing between them. In general workers must never use a ladder for any purpose other than the one for which it was designed.

A section of the OSHA standard is dedicated to workers' training; the employer shall provide a training program for each employee using ladders. The program shall enable each employee to recognize hazards related to ladders, and shall train each employee in the following areas: the nature of fall hazards; the procedures for using the fall protection systems; the proper construction, use, placement, and care in handling of all stairways and ladders; the maximum intended load-carrying capacities of ladders.