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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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Environmental Issues


For safety sake, when working with an extension ladder outside a client’s building, be sure to know the surroundings well enough to maintain a safe distance from attached high-voltage wires. If you expect to be working near live electrical wires, you should select a ladder with nonconductive side rails. This will prevent current flow and electrocution if contact should occur. In this regard it may be wise to use a wooden or fiberglass ladder.

The surface on which you place your extension ladder also should be dry and not slippery. The area around the base of the ladder and directly underneath it should also be clear of debris. You should also refrain from using platforms, trucks, or other surfaces as a support for the bottom of a ladder as these can promote slippage.

OSHA also recommends that you don’t walk away from your ladder for extended periods. When left unattended, children and others can climb on them and suffer a fall, or they may inadvertently pull the ladder over. Not only can this cause damage to your client’s facility, but it can also result in injury or death, especially if it should come in contact with high-voltage wires on the outside of a building.

OSHA also suggests that you ” ...  maintain at least three points of contact with the ladders you (two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot) should be in contact with the ladder at all times.” In addition, no more than one person should be on an extension ladder at a time.

For more information on ladder safety, visit OSHA’s Web site at, or view the pdfs and other files available on Look for the OSHA ladder safety link on the front page.

17 Ladder Safety Tips

1. Do not exceed the maximum weight rating of the ladder you intend to use (user plus materials)

2. Do not climb on a ladder with more than one person on it

3. Choose a ladder that is the proper length for the job

4. Maintain a minimum length of three feet over roof lines when working with extension ladders

5. Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder

6. Set straight, single or extension ladders at about a 75-degree angle

7. Be sure the ladder you choose comes with slip-resistant feet

8. Because of the potential of electrocution, always use wooden or fiberglass ladders when working in the vicinity of power lines or other electrical equipment

9. Be sure to engage all locking mechanisms when working with extension ladders

10. Assure that the surface under the ladder you use is level and firm

11. If possible, have a helper hold the bottom of the ladder you use

12. Do not place a ladder in front of a door that is not locked, blocked or guarded

13. Keep your body centered between the rails of the ladder at all times; do not lean too far to the side while working

14. Do not use a ladder for any purpose other than that for which it was intended

15. Do not step on the top step, bucket shelf or attempt to climb or stand on the rear section of a stepladder

16. Never leave a raised ladder unattended

17. Follow use instruction labels on all ladders in use

Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission

Al Colombo is an award-winning writer who has covered electronic security and life safety since 1986. Visit his Web site at, and check out his “Security Sense” blog at


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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

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