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Ladder hazards often overlooked

For centuries, workers have used ladders to reach heights, and thousands of workers climb ladders everyday as part of their employment. 

Ladders, whether step or extension, are the most overlooked piece of safety equipment in industry, construction and commercial applications. Often ladders are not maintained properly or inspected on a regular basis. Workers are not trained properly on how to set up a ladder and what care and maintenance is required to keep the equipment in good condition.  

Workers are often unaware of the dangers and hazards that are present when using ladders are damaged and missing critical parts. I have conducted ladder safety inspections where it was necessary to condemn over 50 per cent of the ladders used by the workers at a workplace. This amount of unsafe ladders in a workplace should be alarming but often it is not. Ladders are often overlooked as a piece of safety equipment. They should be treated similar to a full body harness where the worker is trained to inspect the equipment before and after each use. Too frequently the ladder is never inspected nor has the worker been trained properly on the set up, proper use and maintenance of ladders. 

I believe that bad safety habits can start at home. In saying this, I believe that workers who use unsafe equipment and practise unsafe work habits at home can and will transfer these bad health and safety habits to the workplace. People who use unsafe ladders to reach the roof of their home and don’t see the hazard or dangers using this unsafe equipment will also continue to use unsafe equipment in the workplace. The difference is that in the workplace, the employer is responsible for the safety and protection of the worker. I have condemned ladders because of unsafe conditions and was asked by the worker if they could take these ladders home and use them.  

If the ladder is damaged beyond repair and has been condemned by a professional safety equipment inspector, it should be tagged unsafe to use, removed and destroyed from ever being used again. The cost of replacing a ladder is fractional considering the cost associated with a worker falling from an unsafe ladder. If a ladder has been condemned in the workplace, it is not safe to be used anywhere and if this happens the employer could be held responsible. 

In Ontario it is the responsibility of the worker to report all unsafe conditions to their direct supervisor. It is the responsibility of a supervisor to protect the worker in all circumstances by taking reasonable precautions. Supervisors must ensure that the equipment is in good condition and that the worker has received the proper training on the use of the equipment that they are being instructed to use.

How many times have you been driving down the highways and seen contractors carrying fibreglass ladders on the roofs of their trucks?

The ladder manufactures state that the suns UV rays can dry out and weaken the fibreglass and could result in cracking of the fibreglass structure. What about freezing the ladder in the winter months or ladders that are covered by freezing rain and used by the worker? Using a ladder under these conditions is a huge risk to an employer and it should have procedures in place to deal with this common scenario.

It is important to train and educate the workers on proper ladder safety so that they are aware of the associated hazards and risks while using ladders.

A ladder safety program should include:

•proper hazard recognition, risk assessments and evaluations

•proper equipment documentation

•proper ladder inspections

•proper supervisor and worker training.

Ladders should only be used when all engineering options have been exhausted. Engineering controls such as portable mobile worker platforms, scaffolding and permanent protected walkways could offer better fall protection to the worker and be a safer option. 

Supervisors and workers should be aware that fall protection is required for any worker who is exposed to a falling hazard of above 3 metres and must be trained in fall protection. Also any worker that is required to wear or use any protective clothing, equipment or devices shall be instructed and trained in its care and use before wearing or using the protective clothing, equipment or device.  Ladders are safety equipment and devices used by workers to reach the work area, ladders are not intended to be work platforms and the workers should never reach out from the ladder to perform work.  

Educating supervisors and workers is the key to ladder safety.  

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Don't risk the fall by Robert Green

Robert Green

Robert Green is the president and owner of Progressive Workplace Safety in St. Catharines, Ont. Visit www.ProWorkplaceSafety.ca or call (905) 325-4897 for more information.
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