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Using OSHA Ladder Safety to Keep Fire Fighters Safe

July 17, 2012

All ladders pose a slip and fall risk that cannot be ignored.  Ladders that are in heavy use and in harsh condition need to be safe for the users.  Firefighters are among the many that use ladders on a regular basis.  They bravely put themselves at risk to save the lives of others against natural disasters, as seen in Colorado, and to rescue individuals and property in building fires.

According to the NFPA and OSHA ladders must have some sort of slip resistant surface to aid in the prevention of slip and falls.  OSHA suggests that ladders manufactured after 1991 should have “corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid-resistant material, or otherwise treated to minimize slipping.”   The NFPA states that surfaces must have a slip resistance of at least 0.69 coefficient of friction.

Making sure that these ladders meet OSHA ladder recommendations as well as meeting the NFPA requirements is important.  Aluminum ladders are common on fire trucks because of their lightweight and corrosion resistant properties.  Many of these ladders have a grooved surface which works well in dry conditions.  However, in harsh wet conditions with the life of the fire fighter and possibly civilians on the line, something more slip resistant may provide more safety.

Installing manufactured ladder rungs covers over existing rungs is one solution to fire engine ladder safety.  Different products offer different solutions.  One product on the market, SlipNOT® offers a metal non-slip surface that is bonded to a metal substrate, such as a ladder rung, and then installed.  The metal slip resistant surface does not contain grit particles and relies on larger peak to valley measurements to create the 3 grades (fine, medium, coarse) available.  This product is available in aluminum, stainless steel, steel and galvanized steel.  A different slip resistant product available contains pieces of grit in order to create maximum traction.  Small to large pieces of grit within the surface make up six different surface grades.  This product is available in stainless steel, galvanized steel, fiberglass and vinyl.  Both products can be retrofitted over rungs on fire trucks.  Both options also meet NFPA and OSHA ladder standards for slip resistance.

There are other safety factors that ladder users, especially fire fighters, should take into consideration.  Making sure the ladder is made of high quality material in order to reduce bounce is important.  Also monitoring how hot the aluminum ladder gets during a fire is a must.  When aluminum gets hot it can anneal which means it loses its original heat treatment and the load capacity is greatly reduced.  OSHA requires ladders hold either 4x or 3.3x the maximum load intended.  The NFPA requires at least 4 heat sensors to be placed on aluminum ladders indicating whether or not the ladder has annealed and needs to be replaced.

Firefighting is a serious job, ladder safety is a serious issue.  Fire Engines and manufacturers of ladders need to keep safety as well as OSHA and NFPA standards in mind when working with ladders.

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