Fall Prevention / Ladder Safety

Falls are a leading cause of injuries and fatalities among landscape services workers, accounting for more than 20 percent of deaths, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

Working from ladders, scaffolds, buckets or aerial lifts and trimming trees (see Tree Trimming topic page) put crew members at risk for falls. Incidents commonly involve ladders, which workers in our industry use for a variety of tasks, including pruning trees, cleaning gutters, working in green houses, installing holiday décor and installing/maintaining interior plantscaping. Falls can result in painful and incapacitating injuries and expensive workers’ compensation claims and insurance premium hikes.

The checklist and dos and don’ts below can help your company’s managers and crew members prevent falls and their consequences.

Checklist for Employers and Supervisors:

  • Know what regulations apply to your company. Depending on the type of work your employees are performing, your firm is subject to fall-protection rules under federal OSHA’s general industry standards or construction standards. General industry standards require fall protection any time a worker is at a height of 4 feet or more; construction standards require protection at 6 feet or higher. Learn more about fall protection and OSHA standards for construction and non-construction work here. State and local regulations might apply as well.

  • Develop a written fall-prevention plan. Training employees in general fall hazard recognition and prevention and in properly using ladders should be part of this plan.

  • Train workers who use buckets or aerial lifts to safely operate that equipment.

  • Set up your facilities and jobsites with fall prevention in mind. When conducting your pre-work hazard assessment of each jobsite and during daily walk-around inspections, identify all fall hazards. Train workers on the specific fall hazards identified and on the required personal-protective equipment.

  • Provide employees with appropriate fall-protection equipment, as required by federal OSHA and any state or local regulations that apply to your company. This equipment could include full-body harnesses with lanyards attached to anchor points.

  • Ensure fall-protection equipment is appropriate for the task, is in good condition and is used properly.

  • Provide daily checklists for crews working from heights, including those using ladders.

  • Retrain in safe practices employees who do not regularly perform tasks from heights (such as stringing holiday lights).

  • Know how federal OSHA’s fall-protection requirements apply to fixed and portable ladders. Fall protection must be provided whenever the length of climb on a fixed ladder equals or exceeds 24 feet, and cages, wells, ladder safety devices or self-retracting lifelines must be provided when the top of a fixed ladder is greater than 24 feet. Fall protection is not required for workers using portable ladders. However, the agency stated in an interpretation letter that although it does not require fall protection for workers on fixed ladders below 24 feet or on portable ladders, it encourages employers to provide additional protection.

  • Know federal OSHA’s ladder standards for construction and general industry work.

  • Purchase the appropriate types of ladders for your company’s applications. Ladders are constructed under three general classes: Type I (industrial: heavy-duty) with a load limit of 250 pounds; Type II (commercial: medium-duty) with a load capacity of 225 pounds; and Type III (household: light-duty) with a load limit of 200 pounds. All ladders should have the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) seal.

  • Protect wooden ladders. Use a clear sealer varnish, shellac, linseed oil, or wood preservative. Do not paint them as this could hide defects.

  • Store ladders in a sheltered area. Wooden ladders should be stored in a dry, well-ventilated storage area. Store straight and extension ladders horizontally on racks or hooks with support points at the top, middle, and bottom of the ladders to prevent sagging and warping.

  • Have ladder repair work done by someone experienced and competent in that field. Discard ladders with major damage and don’t attempt to straighten a bent metal ladder.

Employee Dos and Don'ts:

  • Follow your company’s fall-prevention and fall-protection training.

  • Use fall-protection equipment when it’s required for the job. Ensure such equipment is right for the task, fits properly (harnesses) and is in good condition.

  • Inspect fall-protection equipment (harness systems, for example) and devices (guardrails, tie-off points, etc.) before each use.

  • Mitigate hazards when working from heights. Make sure floor holes, skylights and open shafts are protected by sturdy guardrails or covers. If you are working on a rooftop without parapet walls or fences around the edges, install orange plastic fencing or another high-visibility barrier to remind you where the edge is.

  • Keep your feet firmly on the platform of a boom lift and tie-off at all times.

  • Use the correct ladder for the task. Check for surrounding hazards, stable footing and proper angle.

  • Mind your footwear when climbing ladders. Wear sturdy shoes or boots with nonslip soles and make sure your shoes are not greasy, muddy or wet before you climb a ladder.

  • Inspect ladders before each use. Check wooden ladders for cracks, rot, splinters, broken rungs, loose joints and bolts, and hardware in poor condition. Inspect metal ladders for sharp edges, loose joints and bolts, and cracks. Ensure hooks, locks and ropes on extension ladders are in good condition. Bring damaged ladders to your supervisor’s attention and tag them with “Danger —Do Not Use.”

  • Position ladders on stable, level surfaces. If you did not place a ladder, ensure it has a secure footing before climbing.

  • Use the 1:4 ratio rule. The base of the ladder should be 1 foot from the wall or support for every 4 feet of vertical extension. To check this quickly, stand with your feet at the base of the ladder and extend your arms straight out. Your fingers should just touch a ladder rung.

  • Secure side rails at the top of the ladder to a rigid support. The top of the two rails should be supported equally.

  • Keep ladders as far as possible from electrical lines. Use wood or fiberglass ladders and be cautious if work must be done near electrical lines. Never use a metal ladder near power lines.

  • Hold on with both hands when going up or down a ladder. Carry tools in a tool belt. If you need supplies or materials, raise or lower them with a rope and bucket.

  • Keep at least one hand on the ladder at all times. Face the ladder when ascending or descending.

  • Check for insect or bird nests under eaves before positioning a ladder against a structure.


  • Work from heights until you have been trained. You should learn about fall hazards and prevention and fall-protection devices and fully understand this instruction.

  • Perform tasks from heights if the appropriate fall-protection equipment is not available. Notify your supervisor or crew leader.

  • Use fall-protection equipment with excessive wear or damage. Inform your supervisor or crew leader about the condition of the equipment.

  • Use scaffolds, lifts or ladders without receiving specialized training beforehand.

  • Work from a scaffold without full planking, stable footing and appropriate guardrails.

  • Use a ladder when working alone.

  • Set up a ladder on a walkway or in a doorway unless it is locked, blocked or guarded.

  • Apply more weight than the ladder is designed to support. See above for ladder classes and weight capacities.

  • Allow more than one person on a ladder at a time.

  • Use a defective ladder.

  • Lean a ladder against a movable object.

  • Overreach. Keep your belt buckle between the ladder’s rails. If something is out of reach, climb down and move the ladder.

  • Put one foot on the ladder and the other on an adjacent surface or object.

  • Stand on a ladder’s braces, extension arms or paint shelf.

  • Use a ladder in a horizontal position as a bridge or scaffold.

  • Climb higher than the third rung from the top.

  • Use a ladder in windy conditions.


  • Work with a chemical before receiving related training. You should learn the hazards associated with the chemical and how to protect yourself. If you don’t feel you have received or understood adequate training, notify your supervisor/crew leader.

  • Transport any chemical unless you have been trained in using a spill kit to contain it.

  • Reuse or refill a chemical container. Only do this if your supervisor/crew leader tells you to do so and you are following instructions on the product label. An improperly labeled container can result in the wrong use of a chemical, a fire or explosion and injuries or deaths.

  • Put chemicals in unlabeled containers. There is an exception if you are transferring a chemical from a labeled container to a portable container that is only intended for your immediate use (if you are diluting a chemical in a spray container, for example).

  • Use defective chemical-application equipment. Inspect all items before each use and keep spare parts such as clamps and hoses on hand.

  • Apply chemicals before clearing the area of people and pets.

  • Spray chemicals on a windy day.

Additional Resources

Federal OSHA Fall Protection Standards for Construction and Non-construction Work –

Federal OSHA’s Ladder Standards for Construction Work –

Federal OSHA’s Ladder Standards for General Industry Work –