Unfortunately, falls are a common hazard in any occupational setting. According to Liberty Mutual, falls from height are the fourth-leading cause of work-related injuries in the United States. Falls are not only frequent, but they are also costly. Workers’ compensation and medical costs associated with occupational fall incidents have been estimated at approximately $70 billion annually in the United States, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). In addition to being frequent and costly, falls are—more importantly—preventable. Falls from ladders are no exception. According to 2011 data from the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ladder falls accounted for 30 percent of disabling workplace falls from height.
So what is the significance of statistics? Statistics help us determine what causes workers to fall from height, and in this case, fall from ladders. Liberty Mutual reports that the three occupational categories with the highest percentages of ladder falls were construction (37.9%); installation, maintenance, and repair (20.7%); and sales and related fields (10%). This statistic tells which industries need to address ladder safety. Also according to Liberty Mutual, more than half of the reported ladder falls occurred when workers were using step or trestle ladders, and the majority of falls from portable ladders occurred at an average height of seven and half feet. These statistics tell us that workers seem to push the limits more when they are relatively close to the ground.
In fact, creativity is where most falls from ladders occur. For example, people misuse four-foot ladders the most. Because four-foot ladders are lightweight and people are not far from the ground, they feel safe enough to stand on the very top instead of using a larger ladder. Choosing the right ladder style, weight limit, and length will keep workers safe.
After choosing the correct ladder, the next step is to inspect it. The ladder feet are the most important part to inspect on the ladder. The feet keep the ladder in place, and if they are damaged in any way, the ladder could give out regardless of whether or not you are using it correctly. Ladder feet are replaceable and inexpensive, so there is no excuse to let damaged or worn-out feet remain intact. After inspecting the ladder feet, inspect the ladder itself for bent, loose, or cracked parts.
There are three main problems in industries where people use ladders: the ladders weigh too much, people are using inappropriate ladders for specific applications, and people on ladders are overreaching. Because workers use the wrong ladder to avoid lifting heavier, safer ladders, ladder manufactures should consider making their ladders lighter or easily portable so users don’t have to carry them into position. Employers should also encourage using adjustable ladders if possible. By using adjustable ladders, an installation worker can take one ladder and do multiple jobs safely. An adjustable ladder eliminates the worker’s ability to use the wrong ladder for a specific job.
Installing outriggers that both level and support the ladder can solve overreaching. In fact, many ladder manufactures make their own outriggers and can install them on their ladders. Another possible solution to overreaching is using equipment to restrict workspace enough to keep workers inside the ladder rungs. To be clear, being secured to the ladder will not arrest a fall, but let workers know how far they can reach without compromising their safety.
There are many resources available to help keep workers safe while using ladders. An excellent resource is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) app, which is a graphic-oriented guide for ladder selection, inspection, positioning, accessorizing, and safe use. The app is even available in Spanish. Other excellent resources are Liberty Mutual, the Ladder Safety Hub, and the American Ladder Institute. Liberty Mutual provides safety tips and statistics, and the Ladder Safety Hub is a free website where experts from all over the world post articles and reviews on ladder safety. The American Ladder Institute provides education and training on the proper selection, care, and safe use of ladders in the workplace and at home.
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