Getting a leg up on ladder safety

By Sharon Thatcher, Rural Builder –

Ladder safety is a huge issue in the construction industry. According to David Francis, National Safety Director at Little Giant Ladder Systems, every day 500 people are injured in ladder accidents. “Twenty-five of those people are permanently disabled and one of them will die,” he notes.

Francis and Little Giant are involved in an effort by the National Ladder Institute to offer free training courses in ladder safety both in the field and online.

“The number-one cause of emergency room visits [involving ladders] is strains,” Francis says. “The number two is bumps and bruises. This is related to taking ladders on and off the truck, trying to set up an extension ladder and losing control of it,” he explains. “They are part of those 500 people who fortunately get to go home to their families and get back to work quickly. They’re costly to business but fortunately not life threatening.”

Little Giant Ladder Systems

Photo courtesy of Little Giant Ladder Systems

Ryan Moss, CEO of Little Giant Ladder Systems and Vice President of the American Ladder Institute, contends that lighter ladders is key to reducing those injuries. Today’s fiberglass and propriety resins help lighten the load.

But the most serious injuries are often involved with using the wrong ladder for the wrong job, Moss notes. “Many people will go onto a jobsite with maybe a 6-foot ladder when they really need an 8-foot ladder, and rather than go back and get the right size ladder, they’ll stand on the top cap which is very unstable, very unsafe,” he says.

Overreaching is part of that equation and accounts for the least amount of incidents but the highest rate of life-altering accidents and deaths because they typically occur at greater heights.

The ladder industry continues to find ways to come up with more stable, adjustable ladders: ladders with outriggers for ground stability, adjustable ladders for height.

Unfortunately, even safety-conscious individuals sometimes have a lapse in judgment and experience a life-threatening accident. To keep safety top most in the minds of professionals who need them, the NLI offers free training.

“The ALI is made up of ladder manufacturers and together they have come up with ladder training modules,” Francis says. “A supervisor can access these modules on the web free of charge, have their workers go in and take a pre-test, then go through the training materials and a post-test. It can show the supervisor who has and hasn’t been certified in these different ladder safety training modules.”

Each module, covering a different type of ladder, takes about 20 minutes to complete.

For large companies and organizations, Francis travels the country offering sessions in person.

To access the online modules go to

Attorney Gary Auman also sees ladder falls as a huge issue in the construction industry and with OSHA. “We get a lot of post-frame contractors who have ladder violations,” he says.

Ladder accidents are such an issue in fact that OSHA has two ladder safety standards within its construction industry standards: one that deals with the requirements for using ladders safely, and a separate standard that deals with training employees on ladder safety.

Under OSHA rules, when someone puts a ladder up to ascend to an upper level it must extend 3 feet above the level they’re trying to reach. It also has to be at a 4:1 slope, meaning that for every 4 feet of vertical height the base has to come out one foot horizontally, 3 feet is the minimum. “You’re in as much trouble if you have the ladder too close to the vertical as if you have it too far away,” Auman says.

Another major issue with OSHA is ladder condition. Are the rungs and side rails in good condition? “I’ve seen a post-frame contractor fined because he had a ladder he wasn’t using because it was damaged but it was on the jobsite and he didn’t have it tagged as being out of service,” Auman says. “The compliance officer said that because the ladder was not marked as out-of-service, someone could have used it and caused harm.” RB

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