TASB Risk Management Fund
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Expert Safety Advice You Didn’t Know You Needed

February 01, 2021 David Wylie

Women climbing a ladder

At the Fund, we specialize in managing the unique risks our members face. On any given day, our risk solutions consultants might guide members in disposing of volatile science lab chemicals, setting up vehicle collision reviews, or improving indoor air quality. And then there are days when our team shares strategies for protecting against more common risks everyone, regardless of their role, faces on the job.

Slip, trips, and falls account for 37 percent of injuries that cause educational services sector employees to miss work, according to Texas Department of Insurance data. Too often, the root cause can be traced to how we use – or don’t use –everyday ladders. Maintenance staff who neglect to inspect ladders before using them are at risk. So are teachers who hang decorations while standing on rolling chairs (Yes, it’s a thing).

How to safely use ladders

Employee training is the cornerstone of workplace safety, including safe ladder use. The process starts before you step foot on the first rung and continues until the ladder is properly stored. Share these five steps with staff across your organization.

Step 1. Consider whether you need a ladder

Just because you need to reach something above your head does not mean you need a ladder. Explore extendable tools that make it easy to change lightbulbs, clean elevated surfaces, and trim tree limbs safely from the ground. You might also be able to use aerial lifts as safer substitutes for ladders.

Step 2. Choose the right ladder

Ladders are not created equally. Let’s say the facilities team is conducting roof inspections during the spring, looking for damage caused by winter weather. If their work takes them near power lines or electrical equipment, they should avoid aluminum ladders.

To ensure you get the right ladder for the job:

  • Learn the differences among extension ladders, stepladders, fixed ladders, and other ladder types.
  • Check the sticker on the side rail for the ladder’s rating. The rating shows how much weight the ladder safely supports. Consider your weight, plus the weight of tools and equipment.
  • Inspect the ladder (Spanish version) before using it. If you see damage, mark it with a “Do not use” tag, remove it from service, and tell your supervisor.

Step 3. Set up properly

The location and surface you choose when setting a ladder up can put you and your co-workers at risk of injury:

  • Carry the ladder from the middle. If the ladder is too long to carry alone, ask a co-worker to help.
  • Avoid high-traffic areas such as walkways and exits, or place safety cones around the ladder. Similarly, if you must set up near a door, take time to lock it, guard it, or block it open so it cannot swing into the ladder.
  • Find a firm, level surface to set the ladder base on. Place the ladder on wide boards if the ground is soft or broken.
  • Make sure straight ladders extend at least three feet above the top support. Secure the top and bottom off. If you cannot secure the bottom, have a co-worker hold the ladder.
  • Use the four-to-one rule for straight ladders: The distance from the base of the ladder to the wall or other vertical surface should be one-fourth of the ladder’s working length.
Ladder's working height   Distance of base from wall
12 feet 3 feet
16 feet 4 feet
20 feet 5 feet
24 feet 6 feet

Step 4. Climb and work safely

You can distill much of what you need to know about ladder safety into a single, memorable principle: Shortcuts cause injuries. Follow these tips to ensure every trip up and down a ladder is safe:

  • Keep your body between the side rails to avoid over-reaching. Climb down and move the ladder if something is out of reach.
  • Don’t carry tools or supplies while climbing. Hook things to your belt, put them in the accessory tray first, or have someone hand items to you from the ground.
  • Face the ladder and maintain three-point contact: Two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot on the ladder.
  • Stay off the top two stepladder steps and the top four ladder rungs.
  • Do not splice ladders together or prop them on boxes, truck beds, or other surfaces to extend their reach.

If you cannot reach something, take time to get a ladder. Never use chairs, desks, or anything else as a substitute.

Step 5. Care for ladders

Storage best practices vary among ladder types. You should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for storing ladders, but these tips generally apply:

  • Never paint a ladder. Paint can make the ladder slick, cover up warning signs, and hide defects.
  • Store ladders properly. Chose a well-ventilated area that protects ladders from the elements. Store ladders standing up if possible. If not, support both ends and the middle to prevent sagging or warping.
  • Keep ladder components free of dirt, grease, mud, and anything else that can cause co-workers to slip.
  • When carrying ladders in vehicles, secure them so they don’t bump against tools or equipment.

Use these no-cost resources

Fund members with Auto, Liability, Property, or pool Workers’ Compensation coverage benefit from our online training package at no cost. The Workplace Injury Prevention course covers common causes of slips, trips, and falls in schools. In addition, anyone can take advantage of this ladder safety app developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Tagged: "slips trips and falls", "workplace safety"