Ladder Safety and OSHA Requirements

Like a tool belt and hard hat, ladders are a staple of a construction worker's trade.  And because there are several types of ladders, OSHA's list of requirements are intended to ensure a construction site worker's safety while using a ladder.  When these requirements are not met, serious injury can often result, most often due to a fall.  

OSHA Requirements for Ladder Loads
A Self-supporting portable ladder, commonly referred to as a "foldout ladder" must support at least 4 times its maximum intended load. 

A Non-self-supporting portable ladder, commonly referred to as a "leaning ladder" must support at least 4 times its maximum intended load

(Extra-heavy-duty metal or plastic ladders must be able to support 3.3 times their maximum intended load.) 
OSHA Requirements for Ladder Angles

Leaning ladders, which are designed to lean against a wall or other fixture, should be positioned at such an angle that the horizontal distance from the top support to the base of the ladder is approximately 1/4 (one-quarter) the working length of the ladder.

The angle of a wooden ladder (job-made) should equal approximately 1/8 (one-eighth) the working length of the ladder. Because job-made ladders are custom made, and not made by a professional manufacturer, it's important that the ladder joints are not placed under pressure that would compromise the ladder's stability.
OSHA Requirements for Ladder Rungs

Ladder rungs, ladder cleats, or ladder steps must be level, parallel, and evenly spaced anytime the ladder is in use. It's also required that ladder rungs be spaced between 10 and 14 inches apart.  There is an exception for the following type of ladder:

Extension trestle ladders:    8-18 inches for the base, and 6-12 inches on the extension section      

The shape of a rung must be designed in a manner that does not allow a construction worker's foot to slide off of it.  Equally important, the rung must also be skid-resistant.
OSHA Requirements for Slipping Hazards

All ladders must be free of contact from:

  • oil
  • grease
  • wet paint
  • any hazard that may cause the surface to become slippery.

A wood ladder cannot be coated with any type of opaque covering. 

Ladders are allowed to have an identification or warning label, but they must exist only on one face of a side rail.
Other OSHA Requirements

Foldout or stepladders must have a metal spreader or locking device to hold the front and back sections in an open position when in use.

When two or more ladders are used to reach a work area, they must be offset with a landing or platform between the ladders.

The area around the top and bottom of ladder must be kept clear.

Ladders must not be tied or fastened together to provide longer sections, unless they are specifically designed for such use.

Never use a ladder for any purpose other than the one for which it was designed.

James R. Keller
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