With a three-legged ladder, rough terrain, and going up and down the ladder 100 times a day, citrus harvesting is a balancing act—and possibly an accident waiting to happen.

California’s citrus harvesting season is in full swing, so it is important that your employees know how to properly use their ladder so they save themselves from a fall.

Citrus harvesting ladders are different from conventional ladders, and are designed to get the worker closer to the fruit. However, what the worker gains in accessibility, they give up in terms of safety.

What your employees need to know

Citrus harvest ladder

Citrus harvest ladders have three legs instead of four, and can be less stable.

Citrus harvesting ladders are not as stable as the four-leg alternative. Compounding matters is that workers often lean to one side or another to pick the fruit, which increases the chances the ladder will fall. As harvesters fill each bag, the increasing weight makes the ladder top-heavy, which creates a fall risk if the bag is not positioned properly. 

Since the harvesting season runs through winter and spring, weather is a concern in many areas. Heavy rain and uneven ground can further challenge the ladder’s stability.

What your employees need to do

Your employees should follow these steps to best ensure their safety:

  • Check ladders each time before climbing to make sure they are resting evenly on the ground and that the contact area against the tree is adequately supported.
  • Always maintain three points of contact when climbing the ladder.
  • Establish a secure position on the ladder while picking and balancing the bag of fruit.
  • Never climb beyond the third rung from the top of the ladder.
  • Check your ladder for damage, and don’t use the ladder if it is damaged.
  • If the ground is wet, make sure the ladder isn’t sinking into the mud.
  • Check shoes and ladder rungs to keep them free of mud build-up, to avoid creating a slippery surface.
  • Don’t “over-reach” for the fruit. Leaning too far to one side or the other can cause the ladder to fall.
  • Picking should start from the top of the tree, with pickers moving downward on the ladder as the bags become fuller and heavier.
  • Stretch muscles before and during the workday to help prevent strains and reduce fatigue.

At your safety meeting

Since weather conditions can change throughout the harvesting season, make sure your workers walk the grounds each day to identify wet or unstable ground, and repeat this process during the day if conditions change. If you manage multiple sites, conduct a safety meeting at each location.

During your safety meeting:

  • Have a citrus harvesting ladder on hand, and explain how it works.
  • Show your workers how to place the ladder properly, ensuring the best possible stability. Take into account soft or uneven ground.
  • Demonstrate how to properly climb and work from the ladder, including where to place the bag, and how far your employees can safely reach for fruit.
  • While you have their attention, show your workers how to properly carry the bag.
    • A full bag of citrus can weigh up to 80 pounds and harvesters constantly carry these bags to dump into larger containers.
    • The weight in the bags should be distributed evenly, the bags should not hang off to one side of the body, and the weight should be carried as close as possible to the harvester’s body.
  • Stress the importance of safety over quantity and direct your workers to climb off the ladder and move it frequently, rather than risking a fall.

These steps will help you provide a more comfortable workplace for your employees and help keep them safe on the job.

The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations, or standards.