How Ladders Enhance Safety, Reliability

Bob Schindler

Everyone can remember a time when they needed a stepladder to get nameplate data, but with none around, climbed on top of something nearby instead. As we become more aware of safety in all of our daily activities, this behavior raises a red flag. The opportunity for a slip and fall injury here is too high to ignore, and yet human nature says it will happen too often.

When you consider the initial costs against the potential benefits, having enough ladders staged at handy intervals in your plant is a good return on maintenance dollars. You leverage those dollars by getting multiple advantages from the ladders, such as increased safety, better labor utilization and improved work quality.

Safety improves when technicians use the ladders instead of climbing on motors, oily gearboxes, handrails and unstable items to reach things. Even a short fall can break an arm, hurt a back or create a head injury. With the average lost-time accident running into the thousands of dollars, a few ladders can seem very cheap in comparison.

Labor utilization improves when you aren’t using highly trained technicians to carry ladders around your plant. It also means that those same techs will take the time to tighten that dripping packing, change the flickering light bulb or replace that electrical cover rather than pass it by. The increased reliability frees up that labor to do more cost-effective activities.

Work quality improves because your technicians can comfortably reach the job on a stable platform and take those few extra minutes that torques the flange properly, tightens the fitting that was leaking and replaces the cover that protects your expensive instrument from moisture. Improved work quality means more reliable repairs, fewer mistakes and fewer come-backs — all of which cost money and use your scarce labor resources.

If you have trouble with ladders growing feet and leaving in the backs of trucks, consider lockable brackets with a common keyed lock. Each technician gets a key, and management reinforces the behavior of returning the ladders to their brackets and locking them in place to be available for the next time. Start small in the areas where ladders are used the most often and then expand outward from there.

If you buy enough ladders, you will probably want to get them manufactured with your company name stenciled within the fiberglass coating to improve your chances of keeping them. Also, be sure to buy the 300-pound capacity ladders instead of the cheaper 225-pound models. Americans are bigger now, and the guy who is 250 to 300 pounds is much more common than in the past. If ladders are stored outside, remember that UV light can damage fiberglass, so placement is important.

Remember, reliability doesn’t cost; it pays.

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