OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States and functions under the direction of the Department of Labor. Their primary purpose is to regulate most private sector work places by enforcing standards which lead to the prevention of serious injury, illness, or even death. OSHA was first created on December 29, 1970 under the Occupational Safety and Health Act signed by President Richard M. Nixon.
OSHA plays an important role in the ladder industry, as they are a trusted source in ladder safety regulation. While they do leave room for creativity and ingenuity, they have developed strict standards that must be followed by ladder manufacturers. Perhaps the most obvious of those standards are the weight capacity regulations. Their standards state that all portable ladders, whether they are "self-supporting", meaning step ladders, or non-self-supporting, such as extension ladders, must be able to support at least four times the maximum intended weight. The only exception to this standard is for extra-heavy-duty metal or plastic ladders which must be able to support 3.3 times their intended load capacity.
Furthermore, the standards indicate that the rungs on all ladders must be parallel, uniformly spaced, and level. The spacing between each rung is to be between 10 and 14 inches. The shape of the rung is also important, as it must be shaped in such a way that the user's feet do not easily slip or slide off of the ladder and they must also be skid resistant.
In the standards and regulations you can also find rules on using your ladder. For example when leaning an extension ladder against a wall or other surface that can support you, the height from the top support to the foot of the ladder should be 1/4 of the total ladder height (see the diagram on the left). If your ladders is made of wood or a weaker material that length should be about 1/8 the total working length of the ladder instead. This puts less stress on the ladder and helps prevent an accident due to the ladder breaking. All ladders are to be kept free of substances that could cause the ladder to become slippery. This may include but is not limited to substances such as: oil, wet paint, grease and other substances. If you are using a wooden ladder, it is extremely important that you do not coat it with something that will cause it to become a danger to you or anyone else that might use it.
Finally, OSHA has additional important points about keeping your work space safe. If you are using a step-ladder or fold-out ladder, be sure that there is a locking device that will keep the ladder in the open position while it is in use. If you want to use two ladders to more efficiently tackle a task you should use a plank or other platform spread between the two ladders rather than trying to balance with one foot on each. As is the case with any dangerous work, you must make sure to keep your area clear of clutter and objects that may get in the way. Be especially careful of the area around the top and bottom of the ladder. Perhaps most importantly, you must never use a ladder for any purpose except the specific purpose for which it was designed. Using a ladder for other tasks and purposes that it was not designed for is a great danger to your health and the safety of others.
Most people will never have to worry about the standards from OSHA that regulate the production of ladders. Even if you are only using a ladder rather than making one, there are important rules and regulations that could prove to be beneficial to you. These rules apply specifically to private sector workers and employers, but following them will keep you safe in your private home use as well.
Need more information?
Our brief overview of OSHA and its regulations should be used as a general source of information. For the official regulations and for other helpful information about the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration please visit their official site:
- OSHA has an official site with current information and resources.
- If you want safety tips for portable ladders OSHA provides those as well.