Ladders Last

Feature Story of the Month by Ken Hebert

According to the World Health Organization, the United States leads the world each year in deaths caused by ladder accidents. Each year, there are more than 164,000 emergency room visits and 300 fatalities caused by falls from ladders, with a majority occurring from falls of 10 feet or less.

Even with so many fatalities and injuries, ladders still are misused on jobsites every day.  Damages from workers’ compensation claims for these falls averages over $20,000.00 per case.

Our industry’s most recognizable tool is also one of the most dangerous.

Reflecting on the approaching holidays, I remembered a terrible accident from several Christmases ago.  I was in my 20’s working as a producer on a safety and training video in Houston, Texas.  An electrician, hired to change the light fixtures in our audio studio, placed his ladder on a towel resting on top of a conference table, the towel offering protection for the wooden table.  A few minutes into his job the towel slipped and the electrician lost his balance. He fell only 4 feet but landed awkwardly and the back of his head struck the edge of the conference table.  A co-worker of mine held the electrician in his last moments as he died before the ambulance arrived.  He fell only 4 feet but he lost his life.

So many of these accidents are avoidable.  My co-workers and I are dedicated to reducing and hopefully mitigating them altogether.  There are simple steps we all can use to create safer jobsites, particularly when ladders are involved.   

Of the nine types of ladders recognized by the American Ladder Institute, two types are the most common.  These are the step ladder and the extension ladder.  A step ladder is a self-supporting ladder that is not adjustable and has a hinged design to close for storage and open for placement and use.  An extension ladder is a non-self-supporting ladder with adjustable height. It consists of two or more sections that travel in brackets to permit height adjustment.

Like all equipment used on jobsites, by employing common-sense strategies, we can create safer environments.  These steps almost always include training, not only in proper use but also identifying hazards.  Pre-use inspection is critical before any equipment is used and ladders are no exception.

Before using a step ladder check to make sure the steps and rungs work properly and have slip-resistant pads. Be aware that pads become worn over time. They must also be free of mud, grease, wet paint and oils to avoid slipping.

Before using an extension ladder, check to insure the rubber base pads are in good condition and make sure they can be turned around to reveal metal spurs, which are used to secure the ladder in soft surfaces, such as grass or dirt.

Make sure that the rungs lock and spreader braces work properly.  All moveable parts must operate freely without binding or excessive play. Check all bolts and rivets. Make sure they are secure and fastened properly and none are missing or loose.  Check for cracks, bends, splits, or corrosion.

If the extension ladder has a rope, make sure it isn’t frayed.

Check the work area too.  The area where you are placing the ladder needs to be level and firm. If not, use ladder levelers or place wooden planks or boards under the ladder so it is level and stable.

Check the rungs, cleats, and steps, and be sure they are uniformly spaced when the ladder is in position for use.  Rungs should be spaced between 10 and 14 inches apart.

Anchor the ladder to a pole, building, or sturdy object for stabilization.  Most GC’s require the area around the ladder be flagged, roped off, or barricaded.

Make sure there are no power lines nearby or overhead.  If setting up a ladder near any electrical equipment make sure you use a wooden or fiberglass ladder rather than a metal one.

The ladder must be the proper length for the job. By law, ladders must extend a minimum of 3 feet above the landing surface you are climbing on to. This is OSHA’s second most frequently cited serious violation in construction, second only to lack of proper fall protection in the residential construction industry.

Always face the ladder while climbing and wear secure-fitting, clean footwear. Mud and dirt on your soles can cause you to slip.

Secure the top of the ladder to avoid shifting and never overreach.  75% of all falls on a ladder occur at the top, usually when the worker is transitioning on or off.  Securing the ladder at the top is the best way to avoid this mistake.  Keep your body centered between the rails at all times and maintain your 3 points of contact.  Never lean too far to the side while working. This is an overreach and it is a deadly move on a ladder.  Make sure a co-worker knows where you are just in case an accident does occur.

Finally, be sure that you are properly trained in ladder safety.  Know the 3’ extension rule and the 4:1 ratio Ken, which means for every four feet of height you have to climb, move the base one foot away from the wall.

All it takes is one slip, one mistake on a ladder, and it’s over.  Whether you are 40’ or 4’ off the ground, ladders remain one of the most dangerous jobsite tools due to their misuse.

Better yet, if any other possible means of elevating yourself exists to get the job done, use the alternative method.  Scaffolding, scissor lifts, man lifts, and other types of approved lifting platforms are much safer options.

My sister construction companies do a lot of work for Turner Construction. Many of Turners safety managers have a policy of “Ladders Last.” If they catch a sub-contractor using a ladder when an alternative method exists, the sub-contractor is written up and in some cases thrown off the job.

Large construction companies such as Turner Construction are aware of the inherent dangers ladders can cause. They know the statistics. They know safer methods exist. They understand the risks involved and have created policies to avoid ladders when practically possible. They are doing their part to mitigate ladders. Now it’s your turn! This is Ken Hebert reminding you to stay safe.

When unsure of safe work practices and equipment usage, please contact your company’s competent person or feel free to reach out to us at Malta Dynamics for help on correct product selection and usage.

Ken Hebert Bio


Ken Hebert is the Co-Founder and National Sales Manager of Malta Dynamics.  Customer-focused professional who has spent over 20 years marketing in the safety and training industry.

For questions concerning technical safety issues or about Malta Dynamics products, Ken can be reached at


We can help with your fall and safety protection needs. Call us today!

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