When and How Should Ladders be Inspected?
Ladders are equipment used for working at height. As such, each time a ladder is used, whether it is a small stepladder or one that extends to a considerable height, there is an imminent risk of injury. Though it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the safety of workers and work procedures, every worker has a responsibility to adhere to safety regulations too. One of the questions often asked is, “When should ladders be inspected?” A closer look at when, how, why, and how often ladders should be inspected will help to give a clear answer to when it would be most appropriate to schedule such inspections.
High Incident Rate
Considering that easily around a third of incidents related to a fall from a height relate directly to stepladders and extension ladders, it is clear why it is important to inspect ladders for defects and to check their stability and safety. In fact, it is recommended to consider an alternative means of reaching a particular height and working at that height if the person is to spend more than 30 minutes on the ladder. Because ladders are often not seen as potentially dangerous equipment, workers often do not pay sufficient attention to defects that may afflict their ladders and can cause them to tip over, the breakage of rungs, or instability at the particular work height. Many of the defects go unnoticed, whilst in other cases, workers do notice the defects but use the equipment anyway because they do not see these defects as sufficient reason to replace the equipment or interrupt work in order to repair the defects.
With many falls from ladders resulting in serious injuries and even fatalities, it is imperative to remove or replace broken or defective equipment immediately if defects that can compromise the safe use of the equipment are detected. Replacement is recommended for most types of defects, rather than attempts to repair them.
When Ladders Should Be Inspected and Who Should Take Responsibility
The user must inspect the equipment before using it and after having used it. The pre-inspection is important for the user’s own safety. Safety officers, supervisors, and managers tasked with risk assessments should also carry out regular inspections of all the ladders in use. Formal inspections should be conducted every 90 to 180 days and records of such inspections must be kept.
Inspections should be done in the following instances:
- Before using ladders.
- At set intervals as part of formal safety and maintenance inspections.
- At the start of the workday.
- After any type of incident such as a ladder falling over.
- After transportation of the equipment.
- After moving equipment from one area to another.
- After a period of prolonged storage.
- Before storage of the equipment.
- Upon receipt of a new ladder.
Type of Inspection
The pre-use and formal inspections are similar in the sense that inspections are mainly visual to identify possible defects such as:
- Signs of wear and tear.
- Loose screws.
- Loose rungs.
- Loose joints.
- Twisted stiles.
- Missing rungs or rods.
- Cracked joints.
- Loose rivets or screws.
- Loose bolts.
- Missing parts.
- Rough surfaces.
- Slippery rungs.
- Greasy or oily substances on rungs and rods.
- Corrosion of the threads.
- Twisted rungs or rails.
- Missing safety labels.
- Sharp objects or edges.
- Loose hinges.
- Wobbly action.
- A broken or missing stop.
When it comes to the inspection of extension ladders, also inspect the following:
- Missing components such as extension locks.
- Broken extension locks.
- Defective setting of extension locks.
- Insufficient lubrication of the relevant components.
- Missing or defective chains and chords.
- Defective or missing sleeves.
Formal inspections must be carried out by competent people with knowledge of ladders and of safety when working at height. Pre-use inspections must include an evaluation of the ladder’s stability and proper working order of all accessories associated with the equipment. In addition, the correct use of the ladders must be monitored to minimise the risk of injury related to their use on uneven or otherwise unsuitable surfaces.
After the inspection of a ladder has recorded defects and where these defects have not been repaired, note them. Never use or allow ladders to be used if their defects have not been repaired. Ensure that pulleys are properly lubricated if applicable. Replace worn parts including chains or ropes on extension ladders. Remove dirt, grime, and greasy substances from all parts of the equipment to reduce the risk of accidental slipping while on the ladder. Repair parts that can be repaired without risking the safety and stability of the equipment. Where repairs cannot be made to a satisfactory standard, parts should be replaced instead. If a ladder cannot be safely repaired by a competent and qualified person, discard the equipment. It is imperative to discard it in a manner as to render the equipment unusable as to prevent someone from salvaging and using the unsafe equipment.
Never do the following after inspection:
- Make a temporary or partial repair so that the ladder can be used immediately.
- Attempt to straighten bent parts.
- Allow the use of the equipment, knowing that there are broken or worn parts that can be hazardous or cause the equipment to be unstable or fail.
- Allow the use of the equipment if the safety labels are no longer readable.
A folded stepladder should never be propped up and used as a normal, single-frame ladder. Never allow workers to stand on the upper two rungs. It is imperative to remove a ladder from use if the stiles are bent. Such stiles can cause the equipment to collapse while a worker is busy with a hazardous task at height. Never allow a stepladder to be used on stairs or other objects. The equipment must be placed on an even, hard, and suitable surface only. Dirty equipment must be cleaned before use. Dirt can cause a person to slip and get injured in the process. Store and maintain inspected ladders according to the manufacturer’s instructions and in compliance with the work-safety regulations of your company.
Any type of access ladder must be tied using strong and serviceable ropes or sleeves. The ladder must be tied to an appropriate surface and must extend at minimum a metre above the landing area. Tying of the equipment must be done near the base and part of the way down from the landing point as well. Use only equipment designed for granting access to higher points; never use step ladders as access ladders to landing platforms, unless specifically designed for such purposes. Ladders must be secured at both stiles. If it is not possible to secure them in such a manner, the stiles must be securely wedged against a wall. Footing the equipment is only an option if it is not possible to secure the stiles to immovable points and where it is not possible to wedge the stiles against a wall. The practice of footing the equipment should only be done where there is no other option available.
Worker safety starts with the correct equipment for the job. The next aspect is the proper maintenance of the equipment. The third aspect entails regular inspection of the ladders and corrective steps in terms of the repair or replacement of defective equipment. Finally, employees should be trained to use the equipment in a safe manner.