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Fire Side Chat: Get a Leg Up on Ladder Safety

Al Colombo discusses the simple -- yet vital -- steps to better ladder safety.



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When alarm installers show up at a new installation, they come with box after box of equipment. They also bring power and battery-operated tools such as drills, saws, screwdrivers and more. I can almost guarantee that there will also be a supply of ladders, boxes of wire, cable hangers, “B” connectors (beanies), wire nuts, electrical tape and sometimes EMT conduit. Although all of these things are necessary to perform a quality, complete installation, unless a healthy dose of “safety” is included, the outcome could be tragedy instead of a thing of beauty.

Employers are required by law to provide their employees with safety equipment and the knowledge to use them. Smaller companies, however, all too often fail to follow the law because they don’t know about it. Others that know may not have the necessary monetary resources or safety knowledge to follow mandates set forth by their state and federal authorities. One of the most important entities of all in this regard is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), based in Washington,  D.C.

According to OSHA, “Effective management of worker safety and health protection is a decisive factor in reducing the extent and severity of work-related injuries and illnesses, and their related costs. In fact, an effective safety and health program forms the basis of good worker protection and can save time and money — about $4 for every dollar spent — and increase productivity and reduce worker injuries, illnesses and related workers’ compensation costs.” (Stairways and Ladders, A Guide to OSHA Rules, document OSHA 3124-12R 2003.)

Ladder safety is one of the most serious aspects of construction that fire alarm and other low-voltage installers deal with on a daily basis. The right ladder for the job is based on height, and all too often installers overstep the safety limits of the ladders they use. This month, we’ll look at extension ladders, how they’re rated and how to safely use them. This will include basic technical information on ladder capacities, use and misuse.

Basic Ladder Classifications

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), “Each year there are more than 164,000 emergency room-treated injuries in the U.S. relating to ladders.” The last thing you want is for a ladder to collapse under too much weight. Falling from a ladder is not only painful, but it can mean the end of your career as a technician.

Ladders are judged and labeled by what is called a “Duty Rating.” This involves two elements, height and maximum weight, which includes the installer and any equipment he/she may carry.

“Manufacturers give ladders duty ratings, based on the maximum weight they can safely support. The worker’s weight plus the weight of any tools and materials that are carried onto the ladder must be less than the duty rating. Before you purchase a ladder consider the maximum weight it will support. Don’t subject it to a load greater than its duty rating.” (Portable Ladders, how to use them so they won’t let you down, Oregon OSHA.)

Here are five ratings to consider when buying or using ladders on the job:

  • Type IAA, special duty can handle up to 375 pounds
  • Type I-A, extra heavy duty can handle up to 300 pounds
  • Type I ladders are capable of supporting a weight of 250 pounds
  • Type II can support up to 225 pounds
  • Type III can support a maximum weight of 200 pounds

The Right Ladder Vs. Height

The rated height of the ladder you use is not the actual working height. This is especially critical when working with extension ladders that you intend to place up against walls in and outside buildings. Because an extension ladder relies on the extension of a second element to reach the upper deck of a roof, for example, you’ll naturally lose some height because of the overlap between both sections. Not only that, but there must be overlap at the top where the ladder contacts the top ledge of the roof.

According to OSHA, 10 percent of the second, upper element should overlap the bottom section for safety. The extension ladder you use should also come with a locking mechanism that assures that the upper section cannot suddenly fall downward with you on it. It’s also important to maintain overlap with the top surface to which the ladder is applied.

According to OSHA, ladders that extend up to 36 feet should have a three-foot overlap, those that extend 36 to 48 feet should have a four-foot overlap, and those that extend 48 to 60 feet should have a five-foot overlap to be safe.

Another area of concern is how to extend an extension ladder. According to OSHA, “brace the lower end against a wall and then grasp the top rung with both hands. [Then] raise the top end and walk underneath the ladder, moving down the rungs until the ladder is vertical.”

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Article Topics
Fire/Life Safety · Other · Fire/Life Safety 2 · Fire Side Chat · Fire Side Chat with Al Colombo · Ladder Safety · Occupational Safety and Health Administration · All Topics

About the Author
Shane Clary
Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is vice president of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.
Contact Shane Clary: smclary@bayalarm.com
View More by Shane Clary
Fire Side Chat, Fire Side Chat with Al Colombo, Ladder Safety, Occupational Safety and Health Administration




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