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Rolling ladders are ubiquitous in the modern industrial facility. Their most obvious advantage is their easy portability, but there are additional features that make them an excellent choice, usually superior to folding ladders. Nevertheless, there are differences among rolling ladders, and so when purchasing them, it’s important to consider how the ladders will be used, as well as the safety of those who will use them. Setup time, storage requirements, and weight capacity should also be considered, as well as the material the ladder's constructed of.
Time is critical in an industrial environment, and time spent setting up and securing a folding ladder or any other equipment is seen as time lost. An advantage of most rolling ladders is that they’re already set up — just roll them to the work site and you’re generally ready to go. The drawback is that rolling ladders require far more storage space than folding ladders, and that storage space generally takes up floor space as well. Rolling ladders are available in different sizes, and some are built to fold down somewhat when not in use. When selecting a rolling ladder, it’s best to plan ahead, measuring the storage space available in the facility where it’ll be used.
While wooden folding ladders can be found in many facilities, rolling ladder frames are commonly constructed of steel or aluminum, or a combination of the two. Some applications, such as electrical work, call for ladders constructed of non-conducting materials, such as wood or fiberglass. A rolling ladder’s weight capacity is also important. When estimating the load a ladder will bear, it’s better to overestimate the weight of the workers, including the weight of the equipment and supplies they’ll be carrying. Remember that most rolling ladders have a work platform at the top on which workers can store equipment and supplies, so the weight of these items is often far greater than they’d carry on a conventional non-rolling ladder.
The size of a rolling ladder’s platform is another important variable to consider, again relative to the work that will be done. For example, if the ladder will frequently be used for painting or cleaning, a larger platform is recommended to provide sufficient space to store the various implements and supplies involved. A larger platform for painters isn’t as suitable as a scaffold, but it does give workers the ability to reach a greater area without having to reposition the ladder. Ladders without such platforms, or with smaller platforms, should be avoided for such work.
Another crucial element affecting the utility and especially the safety of a rolling ladder is the design of the wheels. Some rolling ladders have spring-loaded casters — when nobody’s standing on the ladder, the wheels are in contact with the ground and the ladder can be rolled. When any significant weight is placed on the ladder, though, the legs make contact with the ground, securing the ladder. The problem with this system is that the ladder is not secure when there’s no weight on it. If the worker steps off the ladder, and then attempts to remount it, it may slip out from under him; likewise, the ladder might simply roll away with no weight on it, posing a safety hazard.
A different rolling ladder design requires the operator to engage a set of legs or brakes that stabilize the ladder. These systems take time to engage, they can fail, and workers may attempt to bypass them when time is short. Establishment of proper procedures and regular training helps in this area, but provision of fail-safe equipment is equally as successful in preventing accidents.
Only one rolling ladder design is absolutely foolproof in this regard. Commonly called tilt and roll ladders, the wheels are mounted on the ladder’s legs, just inches above the ground, so that they contact the ground only when the ladder is tilted. When the ladder is placed upright, the wheels automatically lose contact with the ground and cannot accidentally be engaged until the ladder’s tilted again. One of the obvious advantages of this design is that it requires no extra time to set up. Once the worker has stopped rolling it and set it upright, it’s ready to use. A disadvantage is that since the ladder must be tilted to move, it’s possible for it to fall while being moved; thus, tilt and roll ladders cannot safely be built as tall as those with spring-loaded wheels or brakes.
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