Safety when using extension ladders and step ladders

by May 15, 2019Work at heights

Safety when using extension ladders and step ladders

Do you know the risks of working with ladders?

Your mind might go straight to falls and resulting injuries, but did you know that electrification and electrocution are frequently associated with the use of these tools?

Here’s how you can reduce your risks for many types of accidents in five simple steps:

1.Chose the right equipment for the task

The odds are there’s a better alternative to using a ladder. Mobile and aerial work platforms as well as different lift options are all preferred solutions.

According to the Safety Code for the construction industry (SCCI) and the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety (RROHS), ladders and stepladders must be used when the work to be performed is short-term (less than one hour) and is not repetitive in nature.

If you absolutely must use a ladder or stepladder:

  • Should you have a non-conducting ladder? Fiberglass is a great option in this case.
  • Is the ladder long enough to get the job done without having to climb onto the last two rungs of the ladder or onto the top cap?
  • When working more than 3 meters (10 feet) from the ground, even on a ladder or stepladder, it is work-at-height. In this case, all the rules of the RSST or the SCCI must be followed, and the user must have the necessary training!
  • If you need to build a ladder on site, make sure you follow article 3.5.4 of the SCCI.

2.Inspect your ladders

Ladders breaking or collapsing during the execution of a task are a frequent cause of accidents, even with people who followed all the best work practices. For this reason, the following points need minimally be inspected before the ladder is used:

  • The warning and specification labels are present and legible. Among other things, these labels identify the maximum weight allowed on the ladder.
    • To respect the maximum usage weight; don’t forget to include the weight of your tools.
  • Ladder or stepladder is clean and not slippery. It does not have mud, oil, grease, etc. on it.
  • The ladders have slip resistant feet that are in good condition.
  • The rungs are all present and solid (they do not spin) and are free of cracks and dents.
  • The fasteners and brackets are in good condition (not corroded, cracked, twisted, loose, bumpy), the spreader falls in place easily and correctly.
  • For extension ladders: the pulleys, the rung locks and the rope are all present and are in good condition.

3.Take your time to install your ladder and carry your tools

Ladders can come into contact with energized power lines, all to often leading to loss of life. Use caution when transporting a ladder and watch out for obstacles on your path.

Workers often fall from ladders when they slide downwards, fall backwards or pivot sideways. Take the time to finish installing your ladder before you climb it.

  • Make sure the ladder isn’t set in front of a door or near a lift truck path, etc.
  • Install the ladder on a stable hard surface, not on loose soil or uneven flooring.
  • Rest the ladders top against a flat and solid surface. No windows, gutter or swinging pipes.
    • Make sure you are using proper posture when installing your ladder: they are often quite heavy and need to be lifted correctly. Don’t try to pivot it into place.
  • For a step ladder, spread the rails completely and lock the spreaders in place.
  • When you install an extension ladder, take notice of its incline:
    • If it’s too horizontal, it could slip downwards.
    • If it’s installed too flat to the wall, it could fall backwards
    • The feet of the ladder should be spaced between 1/3 and 1/4 of the ladder’s length from the plane of the surface it leans against.
    • There should be free space of 15cm (6‘’) behind the rungs.
    • Make sure the ladder reaches past the surface you are trying to reach by at least 900mm (3 feet) and attach to top of the ladder.
    • Attach the bottom of the ladder and when that isn’t possible, use a stake driven into the ground.
    • Have someone hold the ladder in place while you tie or untie your ladder.
    • Ladders equal or longer than 9m (30 ft) must be firmly held in position by one or more persons if they are not permanently affixed (CSTC, art. 3.5.6. b).

Certain uses of ladders and stepladders are prohibited as they go against the manufacturer’s instructions:

  • Do not use a ladder horizontally as a means of access.
  • Do not use a folded step ladder to replace an extension ladder.

Lastly, tools falling from heights frequently hurt workers

  • If you need to carry tools, plan to move them up the ladder safely. For example, a bucket can be used.
  • If it doesn’t create additional risks, you can tie the tools to your body or clothing (e.g. tool belt).
  • Create a perimeter around your ladder and never let anyone work underneath it.

4. Work safely

The human factor is the leading cause of accidents involving ladders. Always have the following basic rules in mind to avoid falling off or falling with your ladder:

  • One person at a time
  • Are you wearing the right shoes? Closed shoes that are properly laced will offer better results than sandals in preventing falls!
  • Always face the ladder when going up or down.
  • Always keep three points of contact with the ladder. 2 hands 1 foot, 2 feet 1 hand, the choice is yours!
  • Pay attention to your hand and feet, especially when climbing past the rung lock mechanism on an extension ladder.
  • Don’t climb too high up the ladder. If you can’t hold the ladder without bending over, you’ve climbed too high up! Don’t climb on the last two rungs and do not climb or sit on the top cap of the ladder.
  • Once you are on the ladder, do not use tools that require leverage (e.g. pry bars) as these can easily cause you to lose your balance)
  • Keep your body between the rails, your center of gravity must always remain between the rails. Don’t extend your arms out too far, move the ladder and don’t try to move it while you are on it.
  • When coming down the ladder, never assume you’ve reached the last step without checking. Missing the last step is a frequent cause of accidents and it is a real shame when you’ve made it that far without any trouble.

5.Sometimes it’s better to keep both feet on the ground…

Sometimes working on a ladder is a bad idea all together:

  • If you are tired, distracted, or are feeling flushed from heat…
  • If you’ve taken medication or any substance that can alter your wakefulness, balance or coordination…
  • If heights give you vertigo (vertigo is a medical condition!) …


… Keep your feet firmly on the ground and don’t put yourself at risk working on ladders!

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Intervention Prévention Inc.

Intervention Prévention concentrates its operations in the field of work safety, offering specialized services following Standards CSA Z462 – Workplace Electrical Safety, CSA Z460 – Control of Hazardous Energy: Lock-out and Other Methods, and CSA Z432 – Safeguarding of Machinery.


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