Around the world, ladder falls continue to be a safety concern - both in the workplace and at home. Studies have been conducted in numerous countries to evaluate and better understand the injuries, ER visits, and long-term impacts of ladder falls.
As you get ready to use a ladder for a project at home or work, here are a few reminders to consider as you think through the steps of the project and prepare your job safety analysis (JSA) or job hazard analysis.
In the workplace, ladders remained on OSHA's Top Ten Violations list for fiscal year 2019, with 2,766 violations, holding at #6 for the second year in a row (CFR 1926.1053). Of the 2,766 ladder-related violations, OSHA classified 2,463 as "serious"; violations: "one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.";
The top five citations for ladder violations were, in descending order:
- Portable ladders: rails must extend at least three feet above the landing surface or else be properly secured in place with a grasping device provided to assist the user in mounting/dismounting the ladder;
- Ladders shall be used only for the purpose for which they were designed;
- The top rung or top step of a stepladder shall not be used as a step;
- Portable ladders with structural defects shall immediately be marked as defective or tagged as "Do Not Use" and shall be withdrawn from service until repaired;
- Ladders shall be used only on stable and level surfaces unless secured to prevent accidental displacement.
When preparing your job safety analysis or activity hazard analysis for work involving ladders, here are a few questions to consider:
- How high does the worker need to travel?
- What type of ladder best accommodates the height needing to be reached?
- Will the work be near electrical wires and require a non-metal ladder?
- What are the ground surface conditions? Will the ground surface need to be graded or the ladder base secured to prevent accidental displacement?
- How will the ladder be secured properly?
- Does the ladder include any special instructions regarding setup?
- How much weight can the ladder accommodate?
- Has the ladder been inspected today to ensure it is in good working order? If it is not in good working order, is there a protocol for marking and tagging the ladder out of service?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), now offers a free app for most smart phones, that walks the user through selecting the right ladder for the job.
A recently published study of two Emergency Rooms in Australia found some interesting facts regarding accidents associated with ladder use. Over the duration of the study, 177 patients were seen for non-fatal ladder injuries and willing to participate:
- 156 (88%) of the falls were from a height greater than one meter;
- 145 (82%) of the patients were males, and 32 (18%) of the patients were females;
- The most impacted age range was 60-69, followed by 50-59; and,
- 122 (69%) of the injuries occurred at home, and 55 (31%) of the injuries occurred in the workplace.
TAKEAWAY: While ladder falls happen to many people, the highest risk categories appear to be ladder use by men, ladder use in the 60-69 age range, and ladder use at home.
Of those ladder injuries sustained at home, the primary activities being engaged in were outdoor home maintenance, pruning, and indoor home maintenance, with the majority of falls occurring whilst ascending or descending the ladder (as opposed to performing a task in one place on the ladder).
TAKEAWAY: Use extreme care whilst climbing or descending the ladder. One way to do this is to maintain three points of contact at all times - rather than trying to move hand and foot at the same time.
Primary injuries resulting from falls from ladders in descending order include pain (36), lacerations (32), spinal fractures (30), contusions (21), rib fractures (20), and tibia/fibular fractures (20). Of the patients participating in the study, 21% were able to return to work in less than a week, 20% returned to work in 1-4 weeks, 30% returned to work in 1-3 months, 13% returned to work in 4-6 months, and 16% did not return to work (the study did not include patients who suffered fatal injuries due to ladder injuries).
The study also addressed quality of life after the ladder-related injuries occurred and found that general well-being deteriorated after the ladder injury for nearly half of the participants (roughly 49%).
TAKEAWAY: For many people, a ladder fall can have significant, long term impacts.
While there are many resources available online regarding proper ladder usage, here are a few key takeaways as you prepare your next job safety analysis or activity hazard analysis for work involving ladders:
Choose the proper ladder for the job.
- A-frame step ladders and extension ladders have different requirements and safety concerns; which is best suited for this job?
- Will the ladder be near electrical wires, requiring use of a non-metal ladder?
- What is the potential for slipping on the ladder, and does this ladder have slip-resistant rungs?
- Will wind be present during the workday, and if so, how will we secure and stabilize the ladder to account for this?
Inspect the ladder.
- Have the rungs, rails, feet, and any other part of the ladder been inspected and found to be in good working order? If not, is there a protocol to mark and tag it out of service?
- Is the ladder clean, allowing the rungs to be gripped securely? Do we have a protocol for cleaning and storing ladders?
- Are there any additional safety instructions printed on the ladder regarding proper set up, weight loads, stabilizing, securing, or otherwise using the ladder?3)
Read the safety instructions for the ladder and use it properly.
- Are the safety labels and instructions printed on the ladder legible?
- What additional information do the safety instructions offer?
- What is the maximum load capacity for this ladder?
- What is the proper way to set it up? (for example, extension ladders must be leaned at a 4:1 angle and should be held by a coworker at the base, or lashed properly at the top, with rails extending past the landing point).
- What is the uppermost rung that can be used?
- How far past the upper landing point should the side rails extend?4)
Make a plan.
- Do we have criteria to determine how far a worker may reach when performing work on the ladder, in order to prevent overreaching and falling?
- Do we have a plan about how often and how far we will need to move the ladder when performing lateral work on the ladder, such as gutter cleaning, pruning, or painting?
- If we are not performing work on the ladder, will the ladder remain in one place the entire time? If not, do we have a plan for deciding when to move it, how far, and how to communicate that to the entire work team?5)
Take your time. Trying to catch your fall by grabbing a ladder rung, rail, or gutter is not as easy - or safe - as it sounds, and it doesn't always work.
- Can we commit to climbing slower and maintaining 3 points of contact at all times, rather than moving hands and feet at the same time?
- Can tools be attached to a tool belt to leave worker hands free while climbing?
- Can we rig a system to haul equipment up and down so that the climber may use both hands to climb?
Falls from ladders are generally not controlled falls. Most adults' heads are already 5.5 - 6.5 feet above the ground. To fall flat from a standing position is already a painful and forceful fall. Moving just a couple rungs up the ladder places your head even farther off the ground. While it may be safe to take a controlled feet-first jump from that height, an unexpected loss of balance and subsequent fall may not result in a feet-first landing. If the head or back hit the ground from an uncontrolled fall, the individual could suffer from a concussion, or more serious head or spinal trauma. Lacerations, head injuries, and spinal fractures can all happen from a ladder fall that was the result of a seemingly, insignificant mistake.
Although not every ladder fall results in a head or spine injury, every head or spine injury has the potential to be life altering. The time to heal from a ladder injury and the financial cost involved are high, whether you are at the worksite or at home. Play it safe, take your time and plan out your project. Create a viable job safety analysis that addresses all of the potential risks associated with using a ladder on your project.
Remember, the number one tool in your safety tool kit is your brain. Take your time and use common sense. If something doesn't look right, or it could "probably"; be done in a safer manner, take the time to readjust your plan and make sure that you use the right ladder for the job, and that you use it in the right way to eliminate the risks of serious injuries. Review your job safety analysis and make sure that it can help keep everyone safe!
It is important to consider all the hazards of ladder use within your home or a job site when creating a job safety analysis or job hazard analysis. JSA worksheets are always an essential tool to list and present risks along with safety procedures to insure safe work practices for each job. JSABuilder.com is a great on-line job safety analysis app to assist in preparing your job safety analysis or activity hazard analysis regarding ladder safety. Set up a free trial account today and follow us on Twitter @JSABuilder, where we Tweet about Health and Safety, provide Safety tips, and updates on current Health and Safety topics. Work safe and go home healthy at the end of each day!
Additional Ladder Safety Resources:
- OSHA, More from OSHA
- American Ladder Institute; here is a great page for really good basic info - types of ladders, weight, etc.
- Construction Falls - Safety Stand-Down in September 2020
- Accident statistics, more
- Scandinavian study on US ER ladder admittances
- Five reasons for ladder falls and how to prevent them
- Other types of ladder injuries
- Ladder surface safety amidst COVID-19 concerns