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Welcome to the third installment in our VelocityEHS Blog series on OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for 2023! We started with OSHA’s #1 most frequently cited standard Fall Protection, followed by #2 Hazard Communication (HazCom). Now, as we work our way down OSHA’s Top 10 List, we arrive at #3—Ladder Safety. This particular standard falls under Safety and Health Regulations for Construction. There is another General Industry Standard for Ladders (1910.24–27) that isn’t in the OSHA’s Top 10 List for 2023, but OSHA estimates this standard accounts for around 20% of fatal and lost day injuries. It’s safe to say no matter what industry you’re in, ladder safety is important.

OSHA’s Ladder Standard (1926.1053) Overview

To minimize the risk of accidents due to ladders OSHA has implemented its Ladder Standard. OSHA’s established ladder standards outline requirements for all ladders and gives detailed information on required load ratings, materials and dimensions, cage and offset requirements for fixed ladders, ladder inspection, points of contact, etc.

There are three specific types of ladders OSHA identifies:

  • self-supporting portable ladders/step ladders
  • non-self-supporting portable ladders/extension ladders
  • fixed ladders/stairways

OSHA’s Ladder Standard is comprised of two categories:

  1. how ladders must made, section A
  2. how ladders must be used, section B

Fortunately, US ladder manufacturing companies are required to meet OSHA requirements and their products often meet other industry consensus standards for ladder construction (e.g., ANSI ASC 14), so as long as your buying ladders from a reputable manufacturer, your ladder should meet OSHA standards.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how to inspect ladders after purchase and make sure they’re safe before using them. Section A of OSHA’s Ladder Standard consists of over 27 sub-sections that go into detail of different dimensions required for the three different ladder types. Section B has over 22 sub-sections that go into detail of knowing how to use and examine a ladder.

Ladders pose a unique safety hazard because in many cases the misuse and/or mismeasurement of them is unintentional. Ladder-related injuries and fatalities (most commonly from falls) come at a high cost both in terms of fines and penalties, as well as human capital. Understanding ladder safety by knowing how to select the proper ladder, inspect a ladder, ascend and descend a ladder, and maintain and store a ladder are key elements to preventing ladder-related injuries and fatalities.

What Are the Top Ladder Citations

The OSHA Ladder Standard, when properly followed, provides a critical safeguard to workers and employers, alike. However, many companies continue to find it challenging to achieve and maintain compliance. In the 2023 fiscal year (FY) there were 2,978 violations according to the National Safety Council.

Within the standard, the top five sections cited were:

  1. 1926.1053(b)(1): “When portable ladders are used for access to an upper landing surface, the ladder side rails shall extend at least 3 feet above the upper landing surface to which the ladder is used to gain access; or, when such an extension is not possible because of the ladder’s length, then the ladder shall be secured at its top to a rigid support that will not deflect, and a grasping device, such as a grab rail, shall be provided to assist employees in mounting and dismounting the ladder. In no case shall the extension be such that ladder deflection under a load would, by itself, cause the ladder to slip off its support.” –1,852 violations
  2. 1926.1053(b)(4): “Ladders shall be used only for the purpose for which they were designed.” –310 violations
  3. 1926.1053(b)(13): “The top or top step of a stepladder shall not be used as a step.” –286 violations
  4. 1926.1053(b)(22): “An employee shall not carry any object or load that could cause the employee to lose balance and fall.” –92 violations
  5. 1926.1053(b)(16): “Portable ladders with structural defects, such as, but not limited to, broken or missing rungs, cleats or steps; broken or split rails; corroded components; or other faulty or defective components, shall either be immediately marked in a manner that readily identifies them as defective, or be tagged with “Do Not Use” or similar language, and shall be withdrawn from service until repaired.” –86 violations

What Are the Costs of Ladder Violations

The penalties for non-compliance with OSHA’s Ladder Standard can not only increase quickly, affecting your profit margin, but can leave you or someone who works for you and their family with a life-changing injury.

Ladders by the Numbers:

  • In FY 2021 OSHA Ladder Standard reported over $7.2 million in penalties issued.
  • According to an OSHA workplace safety survey in the US over $17 billion is spent on falls that result from working at height.
  • OSHA reports more than 22,000 people across the US are injured while using ladders.
  • In 2020 there were 161 fatalities due to ladders according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • In the last ten years 43% of fatal falls involve ladders.
  • Over 130,000 emergency room visits are related to ladders each year.

OSHA believes that injuries caused by improper use of ladders are 100% avoidable. Everyone in the workplace has a responsibility for ensuring precautions are taken before and while using ladders. As employers and EHS professionals, it’s your job to make sure your team has the necessary training and knowledge about ladder safety to protect workers and prevent ladder-related injuries.

Ladder Best Practices—Dos and Don’ts

Due in-part to the overwhelming number of citations that are issued for OSHA’s Ladder Standard year after year, the American Ladder Institute has named March National Ladder Safety Month. Using ladders and working at heights presents inherent safety risks, but by following some basic guidelines and making ladder safety a priority, the vast majority of these citations and ladder-related injuries can be avoided.

Here are five key ladder best practices and safety tips:

  1. Ladder Selection: Choosing the right ladder for a particular job or task is the first step in ensuring safety. OSHA’s regulations highlight the importance of selecting ladders suitable for the job being performed. When choosing a ladder always consider the ladder type, duty rating, height, material, and environmental conditions. For example, fiberglass ladders are recommended for electrical work to prevent electrical conductivity.
  2. Ladder Inspection and Maintenance: It is essential to inspect the ladder thoroughly before every use to identify any defects or damage. OSHA gives thorough guidelines on inspection and maintenance of ladders. Inspections should include checking for loose or missing rungs, cracked side rails, damaged feet, the presence of slipping hazards, if ladder components are surfaced to prevent snagging of clothing or skin, and other potential risks.
  3. Proper Placement and Set-Up: Placing and setting-up a ladder correctly is critical to preventing ladder-related injuries. OSHA outlines specific requirements for ladder placement, including maintaining a secure footing, preventing ladder movement or slipping, and ensuring proper angle and stability. The “4-to-1 rule” is often employed, where the base of the ladder should be placed one foot away from the wall for every four feet of ladder height. It is also important to avoid electrical hazards around where the ladder is being placed.
  4. Safe Climbing and Working: To minimize the risk of falls, workers must adhere to safe climbing practices. OSHA regulations state that workers should maintain three points of contact (two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand) while climbing a ladder. In addition to three points of contact, workers should always face the ladder while ascending or descending, make sure the side rails of portable ladders extend at least three feet above upper landing surface, avoid carrying heavy tools or materials that could cause loss of balance, avoid overreaching or leaning to the side, and never used the top step of a ladder.
  5. Training and Awareness: None of the above guidelines are effective if there isn’t proper training for all workers using ladders to understand ladder hazards and how to prevent them. Employers should provide comprehensive training programs that cover ladder safety, hazard identification, and safe work practices. Workers need to be aware, and have the right to know, of OSHA’s ladder safety regulations, the risks associated with ladder use, and how to respond in emergency situations.

OSHA has published a ladder safety guide and a number of fact sheets to help employers and workers know and understand safe ladder practices.

The more you and your team know about ladder safety, the higher your chances are of avoiding ladder-related injuries or even worse, a workplace fatality. Ladder safety should not be taken lightly and by embracing and following OSHA’s Ladder Standard, you can create a safer workplace environment and protect your most valuable assets—your team.

Utilize Software to Help with Compliance

There are many different approaches to establishing and maintaining a successful and effective ladder safety program. One is utilizing software to coordinate and improve visibility across different safety tasks and processes. The award-winning VelocityEHS Safety Solution is designed by our very own EHS experts and provides the full range of safety program capabilities from inspections, to document routine ladder inspections, to incident management, JSAs, audits, observations, and training & learning to help you stay in compliance and avoid safety violations.

Safety is just one aspect of cultivating a work culture where people feel they matter. The VelocityEHS Accelerate® Platform includes a wide range of innovative software solutions and built-in expertise to meet your toughest EHS and ESG challenges. Talk to one of our experts and find out more about how we can help make it easier to manage, maintain, and ensure your long-term success.

Catch up on all OSHA’s Top 10 List of Most Frequently Cited Standards Blog Series:

  1. Fall Protection—General Requirements
  2. Hazard Communication
  3. Ladders
  4. Scaffolding
  5. Powered Industrial Trucks
  6. Lockout/Tagout
  7. Respiratory Protection
  8. Fall Protection—Training Requirements
  9. Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment—Eye and Face Protection
  10. Machine Guarding