Ladders are handy, simple tools to use, but if they are not maintained properly, they can be unsafe. In 2011 work-related ladder fall injuries resulted in 113 fatalities, an estimated 15,460 nonfatal injuries that resulted in more than a day away from work, and an estimated 34,000 nonfatal injuries that were treated in emergency rooms.1 Ladder accidents can occur if ladders are faulty, if they have been set up improperly, and if they’re used improperly.
While workers are familiar with the rules for safe ladder setup and use, it is important to know how to inspect, maintain, and store ladders used in the workplace. The materials that go into ladders are designed and engineered to last indefinitely if they are cared for and not abused. Proper maintenance, care, and an inspection checklist can guard workers against using a faulty ladder.
Neglected ladders can become unsafe ladders, so workers should maintain them frequently. Before using a ladder, it should be inspected to make sure it is in good working condition. If an inspection shows defects in a ladder, it should be immediately tagged out of service. Broken or damaged ladders should be properly repaired by a qualified worker or they should be discarded and replaced.
A ladder inspection begins from the top down. Workers should look for loose steps and rungs. The rungs should be sturdy, clean, and not slippery from grease or oil. The upright ladder legs should be strong and free of cracks, splits, and bent edges. The ladder’s braces should be solid. Nails, screws, bolts, or other fasteners should be tight. Finally, the ladder feet should be examined and the non-slip base should be in good repair.
Different ladder types and materials have specific inspection points. Wood ladders should never be painted and should not have cracks or splits. Metal and fiberglass ladders should be checked for bends and breaks. Metal ladders should be inspected for signs of corrosion. Step ladders should not be wobbly—a possible indication of side strain—and the hinges should be firm and straight. Extension ladders should have working extension locks that seat properly. The extension rope should not be rotted or frayed.
Workers should try to prevent ladder damage during transport and use, because this can weaken the ladder. When hauling a ladder, workers should tie it securely to the vehicle to prevent nicks, gouges, or chafing. Damaged bolts and joints can work loose and eventually cause the ladder to twist and become unstable. Straight ladders should be stored flat or on wall brackets to prevent sagging or warping. Step ladders should be stored upright and in the closed position. All ladders should be stored in covered, protected areas away from moisture sources.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity, and Mortality Weekly Report, April 25, 2014