5 Steps for Preventing Ladder Injuries in the Brewery

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Falls from ladders can lead to serious injuries and death. According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), ladders were involved in 20% of all fall injuries and 43% of all fall fatalities. Ladders are routinely used for brewery tasks such as sample collection, dry hopping, and tank cleaning. Unfortunately, ladder hazards tend to be normalized due to their ubiquitous presence in breweries. To combat this phenomenon, the Brewers Association (BA) Safety Subcommittee developed this ladder safety resource and printable infographics to educate and encourage ladder use best practices and to prevent ladder-related injuries and death in brewery workspaces.

The scope of this ladder safety resource is limited to commonly used ladders in small to medium sized breweries; specifically combination step ladders and extension ladders. More regulatory information enacted by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on general ladder applications, requirements, and design can be found in 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.23.

Step 1 – Eliminate or Substitute Ladders When Possible

According to the most common representation of the hierarchy of safety controls, the first step is always to eliminate (physically remove) or substitute (replace) the hazard whenever possible. There are many factors to consider with elimination and substitution, including cost, size of equipment, location, and accessibility. One brewery example is to eliminate the use of ladders by substituting hop dosing equipment or a rolling staircase when performing a dry hop.

Step 2 – Choose the Right Ladder for the Job

  • The ladder must be tall enough so that the user can easily reach the working level without stretching or leaning.
  • It is recommended to use at least a Type IA rated, 300 lb. working capacity ladder in brewery settings.
  • Make sure the ladder will support both the user and the added weight of ingredients and materials at the working level.
  • Be aware of sloped floors, drains, and other obstructions or operational hazards around the job location.
  • Wet and hot conditions, or exposure to chemicals, especially caustic, can make rungs and floors slippery and weaken the ladder, making it unsafe.
  • Use non-conductive fiberglass ladders, keep the ladder dry, and avoid contact with energy sources. Electrical shock can cause the user to fall from the ladder.

Step 3 – Inspect the Ladder Before Each Use

  • Never use a broken ladder. Take it out of service and get it repaired or purchase a new ladder.
  • Make sure the feet of the ladder are not damaged or worn and sit flat on a level floor.
  • Confirm the integrity of the rungs and side rails. Cracked, loose, bent, damaged, or sharp rungs and side rails can cause ladder failures and injuries while climbing.
  • Make certain all moveable parts, hinges, catches, latches, or pulleys operate freely and are in good condition.
  • Make sure that step ladder spreaders operate correctly and lock fully. Look for broken stops, loose hinges, and sharp edges.
  • Make sure that ladder labels are intact and legible.
  • Check integrity of all surfaces on the ladder, floor, and work area. Clean or repair surfaces that are slippery, corroded, or otherwise damaged.

Step 4 – Setup the Ladder Correctly

  • Make sure the feet of the ladder sit flush to the floor for maximum grip.
  • Keep ladder clear of electrical components.
  • For ladder work in high traffic areas, divert traffic around the workspace using safety cones or other highly visible markers.
  • Straight ladders must be leaned at a pitch of 4 to 1. The vertical height from the ground to the point of contact the ladder leans against must be four times the distance of the base of the ladder to the wall or tank. Ladders positioned at this pitch will be at a 75° angle to the floor.
  • The coworker assisting at the base of the ladder should direct traffic around the work.
  • Communicate planned ladder work in safety meetings, pre-shift briefings, and over email.
  • Do not block building exits with ladders. Fire code prohibits blocking any means of egress.

Do not block exits!

Do not block building exits with ladders. Fire code prohibits blocking any means of egress.

Step 5 – Proper Ladder Use

  • Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder, meaning only one hand or one foot is off the ladder at any time while climbing.
  • Working with two hands is possible if the user has two feet plus their midsection against ladder to provide three points of contact. This is not possible while climbing.
  • Keep center of gravity within the ladder side rails.
  • Never extend or lean beyond the ladder.
  • When using a step ladder, never use the top two steps or rungs.
  • When using an extension ladder, never use the top three steps or rungs.
  • The top of an extension ladder must extended three feet beyond the landing area.
  • Do not try to move the ladder while a user is on it.
  • Deliver tools and materials to the ladder operator using mechanical conveyance.
  • Always maintain balance by ascending and descending slowly.
  • Grip and lean into the ladder and work deliberately.

The information in this resource provides breweries with the tools to prevent ladder-related injuries and can be used as ladder safety training materials. Remember, in addition to any safety training, documentation of the training is needed so workers have references they can come back to and companies can prove their due diligence. Training can be done easily with a written standard operating procedure (SOP).

Check out additional safety culture and training resources in the BA Resource Hub.