Misusing ladders or ignoring safety precautions can result in serious injuries or fatalities. When ladders are not secured properly, are slippery or defective, or not used in conjunction with appropriate stabilizers, workers are far more vulnerable to a fall.  Additionally, workers can be struck by falling ladders or materials, or trip over a ladder when left on the ground. 

Not only can these incidents be injurious, but can result in long-term health problems or, in serious instances, even death. 

Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires employers to take whatever precautions necessary to prevent falls from heights.  Employers must instruct their workers in the proper use of ladders and provide the equipment they need to stay safe on the job. 

Workers or employers who do not comply with Ontario law can be charged.  To avoid these penalties and create safe work environments, it’s important to be fully informed on ladder safety and Ontario working at heights regulations. 

Ontario Working At Heights Regulations

In Ontario, Working At Heights training is mandatory for workers who work at heights of 3 feet or more. Working At Heights regulations have implications for employers, supervisors and workers. 

OHSA requires employers to ensure that all equipment and materials on a job site are in good working condition and without defect or damage, as well as provide the appropriate training to employees to ensure they are fully informed on all matters regarding workplace safety.  Employers must also have an operational health and safety policy and program and provide routine reports to the JHSC. 

Supervisors’ duties include taking appropriate precautionary measures to protect workers, and ensuring that workers are acting in compliance with OHSA regulations. Workers, in turn, must use all safety equipment required in their workplace, and can be charged if found to be operating any equipment in a dangerous manner. This includes the inappropriate use of ladders, or failure to wear the proper fall protection equipment when using a ladder. 

Ladders must be used according to the instructions from the manufacturer.  Workers must maintain a safe distance from power lines or electrical equipment.  All fall protection equipment must comply with safety standards and be in good condition. Employers must also ensure that the equipment is maintained and stored according to directions from the manufacturer. Workers must be fully trained on appropriate use of fall protection gear and be aware of emergency procedures should a fall or injury occur. 

Best Practices

Basic safety practices when using a ladder include:

  • Maintaining 3-point contact at all times
  • Ensure only one user at a time
  • Face the ladder when climbing up or down
  • Ensure the top of the ladder is secured to a scaffold or platform
  • Ensure that the ladder extends beyond the surface it is secured to
  • Never reach beyond the rails on the side
  • Tools or materials must be either placed in a belt or hoisted - keep your hands free

It is also important to assess your environment and identify any possible hazards like power lines or unstable surfaces.  Metal ladders must never be used in the vicinity of power lines. 

In some situations, a ladder may not be the safest mode of access for the worker.  A ramp or stairs may sometimes be a preferable option, depending on the nature of the work and the work location. 

Choosing the right ladder for the job is also an important consideration. Ladders should only be used as a last resort for working at heights.  In many cases, the safest option for the worker is a platform.  

Ladder Safety Certification

There are numerous OHSA-based ladder safety programs available in Ontario. Providers include the Canada Safety Council, the Occupational Safety Group and Act First Safety

Any workers using ladders in their workplace must complete an OHSA-approved ladder safety certification program. 

Elements of a ladder safety program will include:

  • identifying and avoiding possible hazards in the work environment
  • how to choose a ladder
  • how to inspect a ladder
  • safety measures when ascending or descending
  • appropriate storage, maintenance and transport

At the end of the training program, workers should understand ladder selection, how to avoid workplace hazards, common causes of accidents and falls, and be able to observe all appropriate safety measures and maintenance when using, storing or transporting ladders. 

New Ladder Regulations in Ontario - 2019

Ontario laws are being updated routinely.  

As of 2019, Section 73 of regulation 851 states that portable ladders must:

(a) be free from broken or loose members or other faults;
(b) have non-slip feet;
(c) be placed on a firm footing;
(d) where it,
(i) exceeds six metres in length and is not securely fastened, or
(ii) is likely to be endangered by traffic,
be held in place by one or more workers while being used; and
(e) when not securely fastened, be inclined so that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is not less than 1/4 and not more than 1/3 of the length of the ladder.

Falls are not the only risk presented by inappropriate use of ladders. Musculoskeletal disorders (or MSDs) are a risk when ladders are transported incorrectly, or when a worker’s materials are not hoisted or handled with the right precautions. MSDs are a costly problem, representing roughly a third of all WSIB claims for time lost from work and over $70 million in costs to the WSIB. 

Ladder safety is an important part of workplace safety.  Employers and workers must play their part to ensure that workplaces are safe for everyone.