Among both construction professionals and people taking the DIY approach to more precarious maintenance tasks, ladder jacks have emerged as a very useful tool. For the purposes of constructing easy to move platforms or scaffoldings, it does get much more convenient or inexpensive than the ladder jack. With such widespread use, the question is begged: How safe are these ladder jacks? This article will attempt to answer this very question by taking a closer look at the safety concerns regarding this particular apparatus.
What Exactly is a Ladder Jack?
In short, a ladder jack is a relatively simple triangular device which consists of brackets that are designed to attach to the rungs of a ladder and extend about a foot out beyond the rungs. When two jacks are attached to parallel ladders, a foundation is created that can support a platform, scaffolding or plank. This ladder jack system is useful for jobs that might take extended periods of time to complete, or that may be in hard to reach areas that a ladder might not be able to reach safely. It should be noted that, along with the cheapness and portability of the ladder jack, it comes with its limitations – namely that it is only designed to support light loads.
How Does the System Work?
In most cases, newer ladder jacks will already have pre-existing slots at the bottom which fit the ladder rungs. When the jack has been successfully attached to the ladder, the top section of the triangle should extend out perpendicular to the ladder – ideally at as close to a horizontal angle as possible. This same process is then repeated for the second ladder, which is typically about 10 feet away, with the jack installed on the exact same level as it has been on the first ladder. It is critical that the jacks are level. Once both of the jacks are secure and there is no detectable wiggle room with the brackets, the platform is placed directly onto the jack surfaces so that they lock into place, effectively creating the secure scaffolding setup.
Of course, any situation in which workers are performing tasks at elevated heights will carry with them a certain amount of inherent risk of collapse and injury. Performing work on a ladder jack system is no exception, and for this reason, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (or OSHA for short) has established regulations and safety guidelines to minimize the risk of injury when using ladder jacks. Not only are these guidelines critical to follow all precautionary measures from a personal safety standpoint, they can also result in a fine if the standards are not properly met and the ladder jack system is deemed unsafe.
The OSHA Guidelines for Safe Ladder Jack Usage
- Guardrails – As with any scaffolding, the plank of a ladder jack system should be fitted with guard rails to prevent worker(s) from falling to the ground. Per OSHA standards, the guardrails should be enclosing all sides of the plank in order for the jack system to be deemed safe for use.
- Safe Points of Access – Any person using the ladder jack system needs to be able to get to the plank safely, without taking any measures that might put themselves in danger or disrupt the security of the ladder system.
- Rigid, Solid Footing – According to OSHA, the ladder jack scaffolding must be resting upon ground that is sturdy and rigid so that, once loaded with equipment and workers, it does not move, shift, or collapse. In other words, the ladders should not be placed upon slick grass or damp soil.
There are also several common sense ways to make sure that you are using the ladder scaffolding as safely as possible. For example, because the jacks are not intended for heavy loads, no more than two people should occupy the plank at any given time. Furthermore, the jacks should not be set any higher than 20 feet from the ground. Those using the ladder jacks to do work should also take precautions such as wearing a helmet, and should utilize a harness and safety lines to prevent a free fall situation. While it might seem unnecessary to use safety lines and harnesses even when guard rails are present on the platform, the extra precautions are nevertheless recommended to minimize the risk.
While it is near impossible to declare any tool or device categorically safe or unsafe, the fact of the matter is that ladder jacks are safe to use – when used properly and when all OSAH safety guidelines are followed. In many instances, it will be a wise decision to let professional contractors handle high up, difficult home maintenance tasks, but the ladder jack scaffolding is not an especially dangerous option, given that the right precautions are taken and that they are used correctly.