Safety advice Developing safe work plans: The ladder example

ladder stock image

By Paul Fooks

Special to Ottawa Construction News

For this instalment, I will be discussing the Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Job Hazard Assessment (JHA), also known as the Safe Operating Procedure (SOP). It doesn’t matter what you call it. It has the same intention. The end result of developing any one of the documents is to make a safe work plan. 

As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. In addition to the safety benefit for these safe work plans, both federal and provincial acts and regulations outline requirements for written procedures for workers. These plans are essential tasks for supervisors or employers.

So why are these documents so difficult to develop? For starters, some people say the process takes time out of an already busy day. The steps may need to be reviewed several times, compounding the time demands. Sometimes I hear the excuse that the job is so simple there is no need to do a safe work plan because of the obviousness of the risk and the required protective measures.

If the story is so simple, then you would need only to write a short JSA. In fact, the simple project would be the first JSA to develop and analyze. I will typically write Safe Operating Procedures which will incorporate the safe work plan as the procedural product in the SOP. 

SOPs incorporate regulations, references, owners manuals and technical references to complete one task.

The easiest starting point for the JSA/JSA is to simply observe a worker performing a task and then write down the steps to complete the procedure. I have done this using a video recording so the procedures can be looked at and stopped as needed to look at each step without getting clouded by the next steps. At each defined step, some analysis must go into the risks at each step. 

For each risk, a control or safety measure must be identified to protect the worker.

As JSA example, consider the process of setting up a ladder. Step one would be to select the ladder. The risk would be a ladder too long or too short, or a ladder unsafe for the task or because there are electrical conductors nearby. This step requires the worker to determine ladder’s height, and the right type of ladder for the location.

Step two would be to inspect the area for risks such as the supporting surface, contact point for even support, overhead hazards, fall risks, structural integrity, electrical contact, cut risks (edges, ledges , nails, bolts, rebar etc.). Survey the area for any risk and mitigate each one. Step 3 would be to inspect the ladder for any damage that could lead to failure in accordance with the manufacturer’s owners manual. The ladder needs to be inspected to be sure it is serviceable, and set up according to the manual.

As an example, folding step ladders legs are spread, spreader bars locked facing the work area, not sideways to the work. For a straight ladder, it needs to be set up with three rungs above the contact point using the 3:1-4:1 rule, secured at the top and the bottom to prevent movement.  A final risk assessment may be to secure tools so they cannot fall, or using fall protection if you are going over three meters for projects under Ontario jurisdiction or 2.4 meters for federal workers. 

  Some job sites have even lower thresholds for fall protection so make sure you know what act, regulation or policy governs your performance. These are the basic common steps for a simple JSA. 

The preceding is a general safe work plan example, not a complete safe work plan. The main point here is you should follow the sequence, identify the steps, identify the risks, determine a safety control, and then follow the procedure. You can use many pre-made forms to follow for JSAs or create your own checklists and modify the form as you gain more experience and insight. Some situations will be more complicated but the time spent is well worth the benefits in safety.

Paul Fooks is Labor Tek Safety Training Inc.’s head trainer. For more information, visit or phone (613) 741-1128.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

I accept the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.