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What should you know about portable ladders before using them?

Falls from portable ladders are a major source of serious injury. Be aware of the hazards and take proper precautions to prevent falling.

What should you do before using a portable ladder?

  • Inspect the ladder before and after each use.
  • Reject and tag any ladders that have defects. Have faulty ladders repaired or thrown out.
  • Use a ladder designed for your task. Consider the strength, type, length and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approval.
  • Get help when handling a heavy or long ladder.
  • Keep ladders away from electrical wires.
  • Tie off ladders at the top and secure bottom to prevent them from slipping.
  • Set up barricades and warning signs when using a ladder in a doorway or passageway.
  • Before mounting a ladder, clean the boot soles if they are muddy or slippery. Avoid climbing with wet soles. Ensure that footwear is in good condition.
  • Face the ladder when going up or down and when working from it.
  • Keep the centre of your body within the side rails.

Refer to safety regulations for specific measurement requirements.

What should you avoid when using a portable ladder?

  • Do not use a ladder in a horizontal position as a scaffold plank or runway.
  • Do not carry objects in your hands while on a ladder. Hoist materials or attach tools to a belt.
  • Do not work from top three rungs. The higher a person goes on a ladder, the greater the possibility that the ladder will slip out at the base.
  • Do not use items such as a chair, barrel or box as a makeshift ladder.
  • Do not use a portable ladder when other equipment is available. Replace a ladder with a fixed stairway or scaffold.
  • Do not join two short ladders to make a longer ladder. Side rails are not strong enough to support the extra load.
  • Do not paint wooden ladders. Defects may be hidden by the paint. Wood preservatives or clear coatings may be used.

How should you set up the ladder?

  • Place the ladder feet 1/4 of the ladder's working length (e.g., foot to top support point) away from the base of the structure (e.g., for every 1.2 m (4 ft ) high, the base of the ladder should be out 0.3 m (1 ft); that means one horizontal foot from the support point).
  • Extend the ladder at least 1 m (3 ft) above the landing platform.
  • Place the ladder on a firm, level footing. Use a ladder with slip-resistant feet or secure blocking. Brace or tie the bottom of the ladder.
  • Rest both side rails on the top support and secure ladder to prevent slipping.

What should you know about climbing portable ladders?

  • Check for overhead electrical wires before setting up a ladder.
  • Clear area around base and top of the ladder of debris, tools and other objects.
  • Tie off yourself with a safety harness when working 3 m (10 ft) or more off the ground or when working with both hands.
  • Ensure that only one person is on a single-width ladder. Only one person is allowed on each side of a double-width ladder.
  • Maintain three-point contact by keeping two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on the ladder at all times.
  • Grasp the rungs when climbing a ladder, not the side rails. If your foot slips on a ladder, holding onto rungs is easier than holding onto the side rails.

3 Point Contact

  • Wear protective footwear with slip-resistant soles and heels.
  • Ensure that all electrical equipment used during ladder work is in good condition and properly grounded.
  • Rest frequently to avoid arm fatigue and disorientation when the work requires you to look up and reach above your head.
  • Drape your arms over a rung and rest your head against another rung or side rail if you become dizzy or panicky. Climb down slowly.

What should you avoid when climbing portable ladders?

  • Do not use a ladder in passageways, doorways, driveways or other locations where a person or vehicle can hit it. Set up suitable barricades or lock the doors shut.
  • Do not place a ladder against flexible or moveable surfaces.
  • Do not straddle the space between a ladder and another object.
  • Do not erect ladders on boxes, carts, tables, scaffold or other unstable surfaces.
  • Do not use ladders on ice.
  • Do not stand a ladder on any of its rungs. Ladders must rest on both side rails.
  • Do not allow anyone to stand under a ladder.
  • Do not overreach from a ladder; move as required.
  • Do not use any type of ladder near electrical wires.
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Document last updated on September 30, 2010

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