Portable Ladders – Make Sure They’re Safe

A portable ladder is often an important piece of a tradesman’s toolkit – it’s the go-to solution when it comes to accessing difficult to reach work tasks.  Whether the portable ladder is of the A-frame variety or an extension ladder, we usually take it for granted that it will be the safest option for carrying out a range of different types of jobs.  While using a portable work platform is preferable to using a ladder, in many cases, companies are not willing to invest in them or are not aware of them, so ladders continue to be the access solution of choice in so many cases.  This means that it’s vital that workers know how to use a portable ladder properly and in a safe manner.

Look at Every Angle! – Extension and straight ladders need to be set at the proper angle in order to prevent them from tipping backwards.  The recommended angle is 4:1 which means that for every 4 feet in height from the ground to the point where the ladder is in contact with the structure, the base should be a foot away from the structure.  Use a tape-measure (every toolkit should have one) to make sure that the angle is correct before using the ladder.

Secure the Ladder – while tipping backwards is always a possibility, it’s far more likely that a ladder will shift laterally so the top of the ladder should be secured to the structure to prevent this.  

Correct Height – your ladder must extend 3 ft. above the level to which you are climbing or it should feature a grab rail that extends 3 ft. up. 

Location, location, location! – Your ladder is only as safe as the location where it’s set up.  Make sure the ladder is on firm, level ground and that the safety feet are in place.  If it’s an A-frame ladder, make sure that it fully opened and securely locked in place before using it.  A-frame ladders should never be used while folded or partially closed – it is not designed to work that way and, therefore, has not been tested for strength and safety in those positions.

Maxing Out – An A-frame ladder has a maximum safe working height – there should be a label that says “Do not work on or above this step”.  Follow the rules and don’t even think about standing on “this step” – it’s not safe to do so.  The label on the side of the ladder should show a maximum working height.  When using an A-frame ladder, make sure never to straddle the ladder or sit on top of it.

Labels and Paint – make sure that the labels on your ladder are legible, if not, ask the ladder’s manufacturer to send you new ones.  Don’t paint your ladder as it will prevent you from inspecting it properly for cracks, defects and damage.

Safe Use – whatever safety precautions you take when setting up a ladder, you also need to use it safely.  Always maintain three points of contact when working on a ladder, so no carrying tools – keep them in a tool belt or tool vest.  Keep your centre of gravity between the side rails, don’t lean to the side. 

Inspections – Ladders should be inspected before use and removed from service if they are damaged or defective in any way.

Training – make sure that you (and any other person you employ) have undergone ladder safety training so that you know how to use a ladder safely.