Ladder Safety at Work and at Home

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Written by: Mylene Kellerman, USF SafetyFlorida Assistant Director

A few months ago, my neighbor fell from a ladder while tree trimming in his backyard, suffered a serious concussion and died on the way to the hospital. A few weeks ago, a friend fell from a ladder while cleaning the gutters of his home and suffered serious injuries including a broken leg. 

In the United States, more than 500,000 people per year are treated1 and more than 300 people die2 from ladder-related injuries. The estimated annual cost of ladder injuries in the United States is $24 billion, including work loss, medical, legal, liability, and pain and suffering expenses1.

A recent study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that falls remain a leading cause of unintentional injury deaths nationwide and 43 percent of fatal falls in the last decade or so have involved ladders. Among workers, roughly 20 percent of fall injuries involve ladders. In fact, each year falls from ladders make up a third of deaths in construction.

Ladder-related citations are also on OSHA’s annual “Top 10” list of most cited violations year after year. In fiscal year 2016, the agency reported 2,625 total violations involving ladders, which made the standard (1926.1053) the No. 7 item on the list.

Ladders can be useful tools, but when used incorrectly, they can cause serious injuries or even death. Ladder fall injuries are a persistent hazard both in the workplace and at home. Ladders are a common part of home repair and maintenance. They enable homeowners to complete tasks that would otherwise be difficult to reach. But as is the case for any tool, it’s important to use ladders safely.

Both at work and at home, proper ladder selection, use, and maintenance are critical to safety. According to the National Institute for Occupational safety and Health (NIOSH), the top 5 causes of ladder falls at home and in the workplace are:

  1. Incorrect extension ladder setup angle — In approximately 40% of cases, the leading cause of ladder-related injuries is a ladder sliding out at the base due to an incorrect setup angle. Ladder users tend to set extension ladders at shallower angles than the optimal desired angle (75 degrees).
  2. Inappropriate ladder selection — Selection of a ladder with the proper duty-rating is also important to avoid structural failure. However, many ladder users lack knowledge of proper ladder selection.
  3. Insufficient ladder inspection — You can reduce the likelihood of ladder structural failure by practicing regular inspection and maintenance.
  4. Improper ladder use — Activities such as overreaching, carrying objects, applying excessive force, slips, and missteps are also frequent causes of ladder-related fall injuries.
  5. Lack of access to ladder safety tools and information — Small companies and individual ladder users, such as homeowners, do not typically receive the required training for safe use of portable ladders. Such ladder users are difficult to reach, often do not have access to safety information, and generally lack the resources to develop or follow an effective ladder safety program.

Listed below are a few tips for ladder safety:

  • Carefully inspect the ladder for defects, checking for cracks, corrosion and that bolts and rivets are secure. Remove any grease from steps or handrails. Tag and remove unsafe ladders from service.
  • Make sure the ladder’s feet are in good condition and have slip-resistant pads.
  • Use a fiberglass ladder if there is any chance of contact with electricity.
  • When setting the ladder, look for a safe location with firm, level footing and never place a ladder on a box, barrel or other object to gain height. Make sure step ladders are opened completely and spreaders locked before climbing. Follow manufacturer’s instructions.
  • When climbing off a ladder at an upper level, make sure the ladder extends 3 feet above the landing.
  • When climbing the ladder, use three points of contact — keep one hand and both feet or both hands and one foot in contact with the ladder at all times.
  • Never carry any load that could cause loss of balance.
  • Never stand on top of a ladder.
  • Don’t pull, lean, stretch or make sudden moves on a ladder that could cause it to tip over. Reposition the ladder instead.
  • Avoid setting the ladder near exit doors, near the path of pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Guard doorways near any ladder so no one can open it and knock down the ladder when in use.

Ladder Resources and More Safety Information:                 

1CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) [2014].

2CDC, National Center for Health Statistics [2017].