The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) reports that falls remain a leading cause of occupational injury and mortality nationwide. The industries cited for OSHA violations include wholesalers, specialty trade contractors, civil engineering and building construction, real estate, equipment and machinery repair and building maintenance. Here are some examples of why and how fall-from-a-ladder accidents happen: workers utilized the wrong type of ladder for their job assignment (ladders were too heavy for the job, which caused sprains and strains); workers used a wrong way of leveling ladders (boards or bricks instead of leveling devices); employees tried to over-reach which caused trip-and-fall accidents (they should have added outriggers to the bottom of an extension ladder to increase the footprint or just moved a ladder closer to the job area).
It doesn’t take expensive equipment to prevent these kinds of accidents. All it takes is common sense, backed by effective training and a thorough development and enforcement of best practices.
Working on and around stairs and ladders is common to many workplaces. Basic safety rules that apply to most tools also apply to ladders. And because it seems like an ordinary tool to use, most workers do not take them seriously which increases their chances of getting injured while using ladders.
Here are the main requirements:
OSHA requires that portable wood ladders be inspected frequently. Before using a ladder, inspect it to make sure it is in a good working condition.
Ladder Inspection Checklist:
Fixed ladders are ones that can be fixed in place on a building; portable ladders are movable. If you require a portable ladder, assess whether you need a self-supporting ladder, like an “A” frame, or a straight or extension ladder.
Since ladders are usually not assigned to a particular worker, consider buying a ladder suitable for the heaviest person in your team. Ladders are rated at 200, 225, 250, 300, and 375 lbs of the maximum recommended total load (including worker’s weight, clothes, tools, shoes, and the load a worker is carrying). Construction jobs should use a Type 1, 1A, or 1AA, which hold up to 250, 300, and 375 pounds, respectively.
Fiberglass ladders are best for electrical work since they are non-conductive. Aluminum ladders are lighter and more durable than wooden ladders, but their disadvantage is that they cannot be used around electricity. When using a wooden ladder, be sure it’s treated but not painted so you can tell if the ladder structure is sound. Defects may be hidden by the paint. Wood preservatives or clear coatings are usually safe.
If you have a 6’ step ladder, don’t climb above the 4th step. Step ladders are not designed for climbing to the roof, use an extension and a lean-to ladder instead.
According to the American Ladder Institute, workers can reduce chances of falling during a climb by:
Workers who use ladders are at high risk of injury or death from falls. This hazard can be eliminated or substantially reduced by following the safety regulations mentioned above, and by the enforcement of these best practices in the workplace.
Learn about OSHA Safety and Health regulations for construction; specifically the use of ladders at work sites.
OSHA Quick Card: Portable Ladder Safety offers instructions on preventing falls from portable ladders.