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August 2013

Stepping up

Making ladder safety a priority
rung-by-rung

By Melanie Mesaros

In 2011, a repair technician was preparing to make adjustments to an HVAC unit on the top of a one-story building in Northwest Portland.

"There was a metal roof with a slick, sheet-metal awning," said Steve Barrett, an Oregon OSHA safety compliance officer. "The worker took an extension ladder and leaned it against the gradual angle of the awning (55 degrees) and it slipped right out from under him. He fell to the pavement and ended up with multiple fractures to his right leg and ankle."

Barrett said not only was the portable ladder set up improperly (extreme angle), the rubber pads on the feet of the ladder were worn.

Oregon OSHA Safety Enforcement Manager Gary Beck said ladder accidents are often the result of a ladder being used improperly.

"We see workers who use a step ladder when it should be an extension ladder," said Beck. "Other times, the ladder is too short or it's damaged in some way, or they try to carry too much when going up."

Despite the fact that ladders are a basic tool for many trades, employees may not be trained on ladder safety to avoid an injury. Educating workers on the three-point system is a good place to start, said Beck.

"Workers should always face the ladder when going up or down and have one hand on the ladder," he said.

According to the Oregon OSHA rule 1926.1053(b)(16), portable ladders with any defects such as broken, bent, or missing rungs, corroded components, worn feet, etc., must be tagged and put out of service until repaired.

"Sometimes, the right ladder isn't available to a worker or they didn't take the time to get the right one for a job," said Beck.

Barrett said improper ladder use is a common citation, particularly in construction.

"I have seen companies use a ladder for something it's not designed for – scaffolding, for instance," he said. "They will place a scaffold plank across a step ladder to hold up the end. If you put a lot of weight on the scaffold, it's designed to hold one person, not the weight of the plank, a person, and all their materials."

Beck said ladder falls are preventable and employers need to ensure their workers know how to properly use them.

"It's not a bad idea to review ladder safety once a year," said Beck. "It could save a life or prevent a serious injury."

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Before you start your next job, check out the Oregon OSHA portable ladder app.

Ladder safety app

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