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Step ladder safety

As a follow-up to February’s article on extension ladder safety, for March I’m focusing on step ladder safety.

A lot of the same safety precautions for extension ladders apply with a few specific ones for step ladders.

Checking the ladder:
Because most step and extension ladders used at affiliates get tremendous use, before you ever step on a ladder, check it out first. Just a quick glance can tell you a lot. Are the rubber feet on the ladder? Is there any damage visible to the steps, side rails or spreaders? Are there any missing rivets or bent parts? If it doesn’t pass the visual test, don’t use it, and suggest to your construction supervisor that it be taken out of service. Your risk of an accident goes up considerably if the ladder doesn’t pass this first test.

If you have a choice, grab the ladder that is Type 1A. It will usually be orange or red in color. Type III ladders are not allowed at all on any worksite. Type III ladders are typically green in color. The ladder type will be in large print on the outside of one of the step ladder rails.

Ladder set up:
There are a lot of safety similarities here to extension ladders. The step ladder’s four feet must be stable and on solid ground. Remember the hammer trick. It’s the best digging tool when shovels
are scarce and the ground is hard. It only takes a couple minutes to level the ladder this way.

Make sure the spreaders on each side are locked open. Keep clutter away from the ladder base like power tools, scraps of wood, etc. If you’re like me your feet will be a magnet for whatever is
around the ladder and you’ll step on them on your way down with possibly a very dramatic landing.

Before climbing to your desired height, a good trick is to put your weight on the first step after you have a stable spot for the ladder and check it out. Step ladders can be tricky and may look solid
but can be torqued enough so that if you let your weight up a bit the front feet will move and adjust.

Safety on the step ladder:
There are a bunch of do’s and don’ts so I will give you just a few of the common ones:

  1. Climb with three points of contact: two feet and one hand.
  2. Ask someone to hand you tools or material when you’re up on the ladder in a safe comfortable position. It’s much safer. You need your hands free for climbing.
  3. Remember overreaching is bad news on both step and extension ladders, so always keep your belt buckle inside the ladder rails.
  4. Never stand on the back side of a ladder. Those braces are just braces, not steps.
  5. Don’t sit on the top step either. It may seem like the perfect spot for a quick rest break, but you are much safer on the ground.
  6. Never stand on the top two steps of a step ladder, nor on the last four steps on an extension ladder.
  7. I’ve seen ladders placed on scaffolds and stacks of plywood. This is very risky. On a scaffold you are already up in the air. Scaffolds can sway or move or the scaffolding planks can move or separate.
  8. Never place any ladders, buckets, etc. on a scaffold to reach that extra foot, since the fall is much further than that last foot.

I hope this gives you a few tips for using a ladder on the jobsite. Happy Care-A-Vanning.

Frank Peccia,
Keizer, Oregon