Ladder inspections: What to look for

A near-tragedy at a roofing company underscores the importance of ladder inspections.

Two roofing technicians were using ladders to get to a roof for inspection and repair, according to an account provided by the Wisconsin Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

The first technician set up a 30-foot extension ladder rated for a 300-pound load capacity. (The technician weighed 160 pounds.)

The ladder was less than two months old and had been recently inspected. But as the technician climbed the ladder, he felt it begin to give way.

Fortunately, he was able to hold onto the edge of the roof as the ladder collapsed under him, and stay there until the second technician set up another ladder for him to climb down to safety.

The company immediately brought in all of its fiberglass extension ladders and found that about 20 percent of them had small cracks in the fiberglass on the side rails — some right next to the rungs.

We use ladders so often, sometimes we forget the risk we’re taking each time we climb one.

This is why you should inspect ladders before every use. Below, find more tips on what to look for when doing a ladder inspection.

When should you inspect ladders?

  • Inspect new ladders promptly upon receipt
  • Inspect ladders before each use
  • Check the condition of ladders that have been dropped or have fallen before using them again

What should you look for when inspecting any ladder?

  • Missing or loose steps or rungs (they are loose if you can move them by hand)
  • Damaged or worn non-slip feet
  • Loose nails, screws, bolts or nuts
  • Loose or faulty spreaders, locks and other metal parts in poor repair
  • Rot, decay or warped rails in wooden ladders
  • Cracks and exposed fiberglass in fiberglass ladders
  • Cracked, split, worn or broken rails, braces, steps or rungs
  • Sharp edges on rails and rungs
  • Dents and dings in aluminum ladders
  • Rough or splintered surfaces
  • Corrosion, rust, oxidization and excessive wear, especially on treads
  • Paint or other material that could obstruct your ability to see defects
  • Oil, grease, mud or other debris on rungs or other parts of the ladder
  • Twisted or distorted rails – check ladders for distortion by sighting along the rails
  • Missing identification labels

What other things should you look for when inspecting stepladders?

  • Wobble
  • Loose or bent hinges and hinge spreaders
  • Broken stop on a hinge spreader

What should you look for when inspecting extension ladders?

  • Loose, broken or missing extension locks
  • Defective locks that do not seat properly when ladder is extended
  • Sufficient lubrication of working parts
  • Defective cords, ropes or chains
  • Missing or defective foot pads or sleeves

What should you do after inspecting any ladder?

  • Clean the ladder if needed and again thereafter as needed
  • Replace worn or frayed ropes on extension ladders
  • Lubricate pulleys on extension ladders regularly
  • Tag any defective ladders and take them out of service

What are some things you should not do after inspecting ladders?

  • Do not make temporary or makeshift repairs
  • Do not try to straighten or use bent or bowed ladders

We use ladders so often, sometimes we forget the risk we’re taking each time we climb one. A fall from a ladder can be devastating, so please take the extra time to make sure your ladder is in good shape before you use it.

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