Falls are a hazard no construction manager wants his crew to ever face. There’s good reason. Out of the top four leading causes for worker fatalities on construction sites, falls rank No. 1, with nearly 40 percent of all construction-related deaths caused by such incidents, according to a report by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
The other leading causes making up construction’s “Fatal Four” list, as it is called, are electrocutions (8.5 percent); struck by object (8.4 percent); and caught-in/between (1.4 percent).
With falls from ladders contributing to the No. 1 cause of workplace fatalities, it’s essential to cut down the risks. While some falls are caused by human error, they sometimes occur because a ladder is defective, has not been properly maintained or has been misused.
Ladder safety begins with selecting quality products, but maintenance and worker training also are important for long-term ladder safety. Here are some areas to take into consideration when trying to minimize falls caused by ladder incidents.
Defective ladders. In recent years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced several recalls of stepstools and ladders with dangerous design flaws. In 2012, one manufacturer recalled 20,000 ladders, after nine reports of injuries that occurred when the ladder rails separated and caused someone to fall.
Retailers should pull recalled inventory from shelves, but one home improvement store continued selling 28 different products after they had been recalled, attributing the mistake to a glitch in its checkout registers. So before investing in any ladders for your workplace, check the CPSC website for ladder recalls.
Ladder maintenance. Keep ladders free of grease, dirt or any substance that could make them slippery. And regularly inspect ladders for signs of wear that could raise the risk of an accident. Ladders should have no sharp edges, protrusions, holes or rough patches that could snag clothing or cause a laceration. If your ladders have fall protection cages, inspect those for wear-and-tear, too.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires ladders manufactured after March 15, 1991, to be “corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid-resistant material or treated to minimize slipping.” And don’t use ladders if the rungs or rails are bent.
Follow manufacturer instructions. Many ladder accidents occur because users disregard manufacturer instructions. Make sure workers use ladders as intended and don’t exceed the ladder’s load capacity. Workers should also double-check folding ladders to make sure the rails are fully extended and locked in place.
A mistake when setting up a ladder – leaning it at the wrong angle, or placing it on an unstable surface – can cause the ladder to shift or fall. So minimize how often employees have to set up ladders. For example, if there’s an area in your building only accessible by ladder, install a fixed ladder.
You can read more about ladder safety in the publication, Stairways and Ladders: A Guide to OSHA Rules.