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Three-Points About Step-Ladders

As one of the safety topics during my hazard recognition workshop we discuss ladders, and I am amazed at the answer to the following question:

“When working on a step ladder and your feet are more than 4’ off the ground, do you wear fall prevention?”  Most of the time employees say yes.  Then I ask, How?  How do you tie-off?

The room gets very quiet and participants begin to squirm.  If you are required to have a tie off anchor point that according to OSHA requirements:

OSHA 1926 Subpart M App C

(2) The anchorage should be rigid, and should not have a deflection greater than 0.04 inches (1 mm) when a force of 2,250 pounds (10 kN) is applied.

(3) The frequency response of the load measuring instrumentation should be 500 Hz.

(4) The test weight used in the strength and force tests should be a rigid, metal, cylindrical or torso-shaped object with a girth of 38 inches plus or minus 4 inches (96 cm plus or minus 10 cm).

I’m not sure that people are using the proper tie off anchor.  They may also tie off to something that could fail and extend their injuries beyond just hitting the ground.  Additionally, after some investigative question in my workshop I find the  reality is, people are not using fall protection when working off of ladders (most of the time).

Discussions that follow my question lead to how to best mitigate the hazard of “Height.”  Many times the answer is simple.  At the end of this blog are some tips you may want to pass on to the workforce, but other discussion should be directed at better choices for a work platform.  In some cases, platform ladders, portable scaffolding, or temporary scaffolding might be the best strategy.

The other strategy is staying in the center of the ladder and maintaining three-points of contact (control).  When reaching or only having two points the hazard becomes instability.  Simple mitigation, stay stable!  Sometimes workers get in a hurry and reach out instead of moving the ladder closer to the work, bad decision.  Take the time to reposition and you will save the time of going to the hospital.

Make ladders on of your regular safety topics.  You may think that I have beat ladders up in my blogs, but they continue to be the cause of workplace and home injuries.  If we understand what we can do to mitigate the “hazard of height” maybe we can prevent the injury… just say’in.

Be Safe!

Carl Potter, CSP


The Following are some ladder safety tips from our friends at OSHA:

Falls from portable ladders (step, straight, combination and extension) are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries.

  • Read and follow all labels/markings on the ladder.
  • Avoid electrical hazards! – Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.
  • Always inspect the ladder prior to using it. If the ladder is damaged, it must be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.
  • Always maintain a 3-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing. Keep your body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder while climbing (see diagram).
  • Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks or hooks) for their designed purposes.
  • Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet.
  • Do not use a self-supporting ladder (e.g., step ladder) as a single ladder or in a partially closed position.
  • Do not use the top step/rung of a ladder as a step/rung unless it was designed for that purpose.
  • Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface, unless it has been secured (top or bottom) to prevent displacement.
  • Do not place a ladder on boxes, barrels or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.
  • Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
  • An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend at least 3 feet above the point of support (see diagram). Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder.
  • The proper angle for setting up a ladder is to place its base a quarter of the working length of the ladder from the wall or other vertical surface (see diagram).
  • A ladder placed in any location where it can be displaced by other work activities must be secured to prevent displacement or a barricade must be erected to keep traffic away from the ladder.
  • Be sure that all locks on an extension ladder are properly engaged.

Do not exceed the maximum load rating of a ladder. Be aware of the ladder’s load rating and of the weight it is supporting, including the weight of any tools or equipment.


Learn more about risk mitigation using hazard recognition and control at the open enrollment workshop in Dallas, TX November 21, 2013

Learn more by emailing to request a quote for an customized onsite workshop for your organization.


4 Responses to Three-Points About Step-Ladders

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  • Brian scherer says:

    At our plant we have issues with electricians working off of ladders on lights. The lights are on walkways with handrail but once you ascend the ladder, to work on the light, you get above the upper handrail. That walkway may be 10 feet off of the next level or 100 feet. We have our people tie off even if it is under them incase something goes wrong and they fall off the ladder. A six foot fall is better than a 100 foot fall. We can not get regular scaffolding on the walkways and we can not drive manlifts on them because of the wieght of the manlift. Great article!

  • Dale says:

    The article is informative but mentions “Tie Off” and never explains what “Tie Off” is or how its done. A picture or illustration would be nice.

    • admin says:

      I speak of the tie-off because many of my clients have a rule that says, “When working at 4 foot or more you have to be tied-off.” The issue is that with step-ladders a tie-off point that meets the criteria according to OSHA. When I ask workers if they tie-off when above 4 foot using a step ladder they look down at their shoes and say yes. With a little investigation I find that they don’t. Three points of contact which doesn’t include a thigh or belly means the workers must be holding onto the ladder and work one-handed. I encourage my clients to seek a movable scaffolding instead of a ladder and a worst case a platform ladder.

      Anyway, it is a good discussion to find a better way to mitigate.

      Be Safe!

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