Without the proper safety precautions in place, the construction industry can put workers in truly dangerous situations. Appropriate ladder usage, in particular, must be strictly enforced if worksites are going to be safe for all heights. Data from U.S. emergency rooms show that 81% of fall injuries for construction workers involve a ladder. Implementing the right training can significantly reduce those outcomes and help prevent fatal fall incidents from happening in your workplace.
The first step in height safety is learning when to use a ladder and when to opt for another piece of equipment. Employers can also review the OSHA Compliance Checklist to help their crews on proper ladder usage and placement. Finally, workers must be trained—or retrained, when appropriate—to ensure that damaged ladders are removed, repaired, or appropriately labeled to prevent further use.
Use the Right Ladder for the Job
Whenever possible, your worksite should avoid heights altogether. Do as much work as you can on the ground to reduce your risk of ladder accidents or falls. Before climbing, workers should always assess their work conditions and risks by answering the following:
- Will you have to hold heavy items while on the ladder?
- Is the elevated area high enough that it would make a ladder unstable?
- Will you be working from that height for a long time?
- Do you have to stand on the ladder sideways to do your work?
Answering “yes” to any of these questions is a red flag and clear indication that something other than a ladder might be better for the job. A scissor lift or a ladder with a working platform and handrail barricades on the sides are much safer options for working at heights with heavy items, or for long periods of time.
Review the OSHA Compliance Checklist for Ladders
Workplace accidents can also be avoided by adhering to OSHA regulations. Their checklist for ladder safety is extensive, but some of the key points include:
- Adequate Gripping Surfaces—no sharp edges, splinters, or burrs [1910.27(b)(2)]
- Cages for Fixed Ladders—of more than 20 feet [1910.27(d)(1)(ii)]
- Height and Width of Ladder Extension Rails—at least 3.5 feet above landings [1910.27(e)(1)]
- Step-Across Distance to Platform or Landing—no more than 12 inches [1910.27(c)(6)]
- Preferred Pitch of Fixed Ladders—in range of 75 and 90 degrees with the horizontal [1910.27(e)(1)]
Train Your Team on Ladder Safety
Employers are responsible for ensuring that everyone is trained on proper ladder usage, safety equipment, and other devices. You can help protect the safety of your entire crew by making everyone aware of the four main types of ladder accidents:
- Selecting the wrong type of ladder
- Using damaged ladders
- Incorrect ladder use
- Incorrect ladder placement
If a project or task seems unsafe, workers should be encouraged to stop work and seek further instructions from their supervisor. Broken or missing ladder rungs, breaks or splits inside rails, corroded parts, or other faulty ladder components are clear violations of workplace safety. When these ladder safety issues are spotted, tell your team to remove the equipment from the site or tag the ladder with a “Do Not Use” sign.
On an average day in this country, 13 workers will die in construction. In 2014, nearly 40% of construction worker job site deaths were attributed to fatal falls. Reviewing ladder safety with your crews and checking your fall protection equipment can help keep all of your workers safe. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—be sure to regularly inspect your site to stop any fall-related injuries or accidents from happening on your watch.
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