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Working at Elevation – Portable Ladder Safety and Design Requirement

Sreenivasa Hassan Jayaram
Manager-Projects, Jones Lang LaSalle India, Bangalore, Karnataka

Introduction – Ladders are a great resource to help workers access materials or work areas that are out of reach. Additionally, ladder accidents are one of the leading causes of occupational injuries and fatalities.

The proper precautions must always be taken. Employees should be able to recognize potential hazards associated with ladder use. Additionally, they should know how select the right ladder for the task, set up, and use ladders in accordance with manufacturer and site ladder safety requirements.

Portable Ladders A portable ladder is “a ladder that can readily be moved or carried, usually consisting of side rails joined at intervals by step, rungs, cleats, or rear braces.”

i. It is up to each site to mandate types of ladders for specific uses. If multiple types are allowed, proper precautions must be taken to ensure that employees are trained on each type of ladders specific use, care and inspection requirements.

ii. Ladders shall have the manufacturer’s marking denoting the ladder load capacity and use limitations in the local language where the ladder shall be used and/or pictograms per local regulations.


1.1   Selection –
i. The appropriate ladder shall be selected based on required height, type, and design to best suit the task.

ii. Portable ladders shall have nonconductive siderails if they are used where the employee or the ladder could contact exposed energized parts.

1.2   Care and Inspection – To get maximum serviceability, safety, and to eliminate unnecessary damage of equipment, good safe practices in the use and care of ladder equipment must be employed by the users. Ladders having defects are to be marked and taken out of service until repaired by either maintenance department or the manufacturer. Immediate inspection is necessary if a ladder;

i. tips over, inspect ladder for side rails dents or bends, or excessively dented rungs; check all rung-to-side-rail connections; check hardware connections; check rivets for shear.

ii. is exposed to oil and grease, equipment should be cleaned of oil, grease, or slippery materials. This can easily be done with a solvent or steam cleaning.

1.3   Ladder Use Requirements – as a general rule ladders shall only be used as they are intended and in accordance with manufacturer instructions.
i. Portable ladders are designed as a one-man working ladder based on a 200-pound (90kg) load unless manufacturer labels state otherwise.

ii. When ascending or descending, the climber must face the ladder.

iii. Employees shall maintain 3-points (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) of contact on the ladder when climbing. Keeping the body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder while climbing.

iv. The ladder base section must be placed with a secure footing to prevent slipping and/or tipping.

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

vi. Ladders should not be used as a brace, skid, guy or gin pole, gangway, or for other uses than that for which they were intended, unless specifically recommended for use by the manufacturer.

vii. Ladders must not be tied or fastened together to provide longer sections. They must be equipped with the hardware fittings necessary if the manufacturer endorses extended uses.

viii. Ladders shall not be placed in front of doors opening toward the ladder unless the door is blocked open, locked, or guarded.

ix. The ladder feet shall not be covered with materials that will interfere with their intended function.

x. When ladders are transported care will be taken to ensure that the ladder doesn’t contact anything in the vicinity causing damage or injury.

1.4   Fall Protection on Ladders –Fall protection maybe required while working on a ladder if the work activity may cause imbalance, such as pushing, pulling and/or lifting. When the risk of tipping or falling is present regardless of the height of work, steps will be taken to eliminate the risk of a fall or to protect the worker in the event of a fall utilizing the hierarchy of controls.

2. Portable Ladders by Type Use Requirements –
2.1 Step Stools – A Step Stoolis a low set of steps often hinged and used for reaching between 4 feet (1.2m) or less. Portable ladder and general use requirements apply.

2.2 Platform Ladders – A Platform Ladder is a self-supporting ladder of fixed size with a platform provided at the working level. The size is determined by the distance along the front rail from the platform to the base of the ladder.

i. The length of a platform ladder shall not exceed 20 feet (6m). The length of a platform ladder shall be measured along the front rail from the floor to the platform.

ii. Steps and platforms shall be kept clear of materials and/or equipment so not to create a fall hazard.

2.3 Step Ladders – A step ladder is a self-supported portable ladder, nonadjustable in length, having flat steps and a hinged back. Its size is designated by the overall length height of the ladder measured along the front edge of the side rails.

i. Step ladders shall not exceed 20 feet (6m) in length.

ii. The bottoms of all 4 rails are to be supplied with insulating nonslip material for the safety
of the user.

iii. Steps shall be kept clear of materials and/or equipment so not to create a fall hazard.

iv. Step ladders shall reach high enough so that the employee stands below the second rung from the top.


2.4 Single and Extension Ladders – An extension ladder is a non-self-supporting portable ladder adjustable in length. It consists of two or more sections traveling in guides or brackets so arranged as to permit length adjustment. Its size is designated by the sum of the lengths of the sections measured along the side rails.

i. The length of a single ladder shall not exceed 30 feet (9m). Two-section ladders shall not exceed 48 feet (15m) in length and over two-section ladders shall not exceed 60 feet (18m)in length.

ii. Based on the nominal length of the ladder, each section of multi-section ladders shall overlap the adjacent section by at least the number of feet stated in the following table.

Normal Length of Ladder Overlap
Up to and including 36 feet (11m) 3 feet (.9m)
Over 36 feet (11m) and up to and including 48feet (15m) 4 feet (1.2m)
Over 48 feet (15m), and up to 60 feet (18m) 5 feet (1.5m)

Table 2.

iii. Extension ladders shall be equipped with positive stops which will insure the overlap specified in the table above.

iv. Top of the ladder must be adequately supported with two rails supported, unless equipped with a single support attachment.

v. Ladder must not be tied or fastened together to provide longer sections.

vi. Never stand or work from the top 3 feet (1m) rungs of a straight or extension ladder.

vii. Extension ladder adjustments are only to be made when the ladder is not in use.

viii. When a ladder is used for access to an upper landing, it shall extend a minimum of 3 feet (1m) above the landing surface.

ix. Brace or tie-off extension ladders when necessary to maintain stability. If the ladder cannot be tied off, someone on the ground should hold the ladder to ensure it remains stable.

x. Ensure the ladder is on a secure firm base and utilizing the 4:1 ratio for placement. That is for every 4 feet (1.2m) of working length the base of the ladder shall be one foot out from the top support. See picture below for reference.

   2.5 Trestle and Extension Trestle Ladders – A trestle ladder is a self-supporting portable ladder, nonadjustable in length, consisting of two sections hinged at the top to form equal angles with the base. The extension trestle is a trestle ladder that includes vertically adjustable single ladder, with suitable means for locking the ladders together. Trestle ladders or extension sections or base sections of extension trestle ladders shall be not more than 20 feet (6m) in length

Reference and Acknowledgement
[1] Fall Protection Program by OSHA guidelines

[2] Working At Height Guidelines, Version II, 21st September 2011


We at are thankful to Sir Sreenivasa Hassan Jayaram for submitting this paper to us.

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Kanwarjot Singh

Kanwarjot Singh is the founder of Civil Engineering Portal, a leading civil engineering website which has been awarded as the best online publication by CIDC. He did his BE civil from Thapar University, Patiala and has been working on this website with his team of Civil Engineers.

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