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Care of Portable Ladders

A well-maintained ladder that is properly used will provide a safe, substantial working position. This Tailgate discusses the proper practices for safe ladder use. Common sense and good judgment are needed when using a ladder, especially when ideal conditions do not exist at the job site. Inspection and minor maintenance as described below are the responsibilities of each worker who uses ladders to access heights.

Only use ladders approved by your company. As a rule, ensure your ladder is maintained in good condition at all times and inspected before each use. Make certain that the joints between the steps and side rails are tight, all hardware and fittings are securely attached, and the movable parts operate freely without binding or undue play.

Perform inspections under good lighting conditions. Ensure the following:
• All wood or fiberglass parts are free from sharp edges and splinters.
• Structural members are sound and free from shake, failures, decay or other irregularities.
• Rungs are free from mud, dirt or any other substance that reduces friction of the rung. Reduced friction allows the foot to slide easier, creating a fall hazard.
• Metal bearings of locks, wheels and pulleys move freely. Lubricate with light all-purpose oil. Use oil sparingly and exercise care to prevent the creation of a slipping hazard on rungs.
• Frayed or badly worn rope is replaced.
• Safety feet are in good working order.

Make sure that any ladders that have developed defects are removed from service for repair or destruction. They should be marked with signage that reads “Dangerous, Do Not Use.”

Read ladder labels, when available, for specific instructions. A simple rule for setting up a ladder at the proper angle is to place the base a distance from the vertical wall equal to one-fourth the working length of the ladder. A worker standing erect with toes against the feet of the ladder who is holding the side rails with arms extended horizontally will set up a ladder at approximately the correct angle.

Moving and Setting Ladders
Here are several important tips on moving and setting ladders:
• Ladders should be raised or lowered while in a standing (vertical) position.
• After extending a ladder, check the locks to ensure that the hooks are properly seated on the rungs.
• When lowering the fly section, the worker’s hands and feet must be positioned so that they will not be struck if the rope slips or breaks. The fly section must not be allowed to heavily strike the ground in an uncontrolled manner.
• Remember, the length of single ladders or individual sections of ladders should not exceed 30 feet. Two-section ladders should not exceed 48 feet and ladders larger than two-section ladders should not exceed 60 feet in length.

The better a ladder is secured, the more stable it becomes. Where possible, tie off a ladder or have it held in position by a co-worker even when set up at the proper pitch. When job site conditions require the ladder to be set up more vertically than the proper pitch, secure the top to prevent falling sideways or backward. When conditions require a ladder to be set up at a more horizontal pitch than ideal, secure the bottom to prevent it from sliding away from the support.

The top of the ladder should be placed with the two rails supported, unless equipped with a single support attachment.

Intermediate Support
When an intermediate support such as a messenger or truck boom is used to support a ladder, the worker’s waist can be no higher than the point of support except when the foot of the ladder has been secured. The worker’s feet can never be above the upper support of the ladder.

Midspan Secondary Taps
When a portable straight ladder is used to make midspan taps, ensure you follow your company’s policy and procedure. The following general rules should apply:
• Make sure the wire can hold your weight. For example, wire smaller than No. 2 copper or 1/0 aluminum doesn’t have the integrity to carry large amounts of weight.
• A ladder support needs to be used on open wire secondary.
• The 4-to-1 pitch ratio is required.
• The ladder shall be tied to the secondary neutral or otherwise secured in position.

When ascending or descending, the climber must face the ladder, use both hands, and ascend or descend the ladder one rung at a time. The user should never climb or stand higher than the third ladder rung from the top. Exception: With the ladder lashed to a pole, the worker may stand on the top rung provided the positioning body belt and safety strap are around the pole.

When working off of a straight or extension ladder while using both hands to perform a task, the ladder must be tied off and the positioning body belt and safety strap must be worn.

Only one worker is allowed on a ladder at any time. Exception: In an emergency, a second worker may climb the ladder for rescue purposes.

Areas around the top and base of the ladder must be kept free of tripping hazards, such as loose materials, trash, cords and hoses.

Other Considerations
Wooden ladders with vertical metal reinforcing and metal ladders are prohibited for work on or near energized electrical circuits and equipment.

Portable fiberglass ladders with fiberglass side rails and aluminum steps, rungs, treads or cleats are nonconductive by design and therefore acceptable for use near energized electrical equipment.

Ladders must not be:
• Attached to or supported by aerial cable or primary conductors.
• Used in a horizontal position as platforms, runways or scaffolds unless specifically recommended for that use by the manufacturer.
• Placed in front of doors opening toward the ladder unless the door is blocked open, locked or guarded.
• Set up in walkways or roadways unless protected from traffic and the public.
• Placed on boxes, barrels or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.

Although these are sound and proven rules, make sure that you know and follow your company’s procedures for ladder use and care. Keep your ladder in good working condition and exercise caution when working at heights to ensure the safety of you and your crew.

About the Author: John Boyle is vice president of safety and quality for INTREN, an electric, gas and telecommunication construction company based in Union, Ill. Boyle has more than 28 years of experience, and has worked in nuclear and wind power generation and electric and gas distribution.

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