Mariana Taylor, a stockroom employee, fell and was injured after the trip bar locking device on a small rolling ladder failed while she was descending. While attempting to break her fall, she hit her arm on one of the metal ladder steps, sending a large box of merchandise she was retrieving crashing to the floor. Ladder accidents are one of the leading causes of injuries in a workplace. Most are typically caused by slipping, using the wrong type of ladder, misusing the ladder, or placing the ladder in an unsafe area. OSHA's top violations and safety surveys year after year show employees are not receiving training on ladder safety. It is important for workers to take precautions and follow safety best practices when using ladders in the workplace.
Taylor said that the steel ladder she was using had some physical damage and that the brake would not engage fully, but because she was only going up a few steps, she didn’t think it would be a problem. After all, she and others had used it many times before: “The good ladder was in use, and I knew this one was wonky but I used it anyway,” she said. “I could have gotten more hurt. I won’t do that again.” She said the ladder did not have an "out of order" sign nor was it set aside for maintenance.
Watch Your Step
In a 2016 study by the American Ladder Institute, the most cited issues in ladder accidents are:
- Failure to use the ladder properly: This includes missing the last step, overreaching, not using three points of contact, or using too heavy of a load. Be mindful of the manufacturer’s warning.
- Using the wrong ladder: Ensure various sizes and types are available for the heaviest of jobs. Can the device support the worker’s body weight as well as additional tools?
- Ladder fails: Before using a ladder, conduct a thorough visual assessment. Make sure the ladder is in good condition and is not missing rubber footing or load capacity signs. Look for cracks and missing steps.
- Slips: Check the position of the ladder, a worker’s physical position, and step surfaces. Wear shoes with good traction.
While ladders are a common tool that seem easy to use, employers should not overlook the need to train employees on how to use a ladder or staircase properly. Extension ladders, fixed ladders, and even step ladders can lead to serious injuries or fatal incidents. Ladders are involved in 20% of fall injuries among all workers and 81% of construction worker fall injuries, according to OSHA. Employees must recognize hazards related to steps and ladders in construction, according to OSHA’s standard 29 CFR 1926.1053. OSHA also covers ladders in general in standard 29 CFR 1910.23. In a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 73% of people involved in ladder accidents had not been provided or consulted with instructions for safe ladder use.
Heighten Safety Awareness
It is important to keep safety in mind while climbing and working on ladders. Choose the ladder that is correct for the job. Before ascending a ladder, visually inspect for defects, missing bolts, loose pieces, and that the ladder’s weight limit is posted. In Taylor’s case, the locking device was bent and could not restrict movement. Place the ladder correctly and on steady surfaces to avoid slips. Pay attention to body positioning, move slowly, and do not over reach. Do not attempt to move a ladder once atop. When descending, make sure the body position is correct for the type of ladder, such as facing away while on a steel “L” shape ladder.
Safety managers should make ladder safety discussions a regular part of a safety meeting. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations and communicate ladder warnings. Organize and store ladders for quick and easy assessment based on their use.
The American Ladder Institute recognizes March as Ladder Safety Month annually. Graphic Products has developed a useful infographic to help with Workplace Ladder Safety. This infographic covers statistics, types of ladders, their uses, and requirements as well as safety solutions to reduce ladder injuries and fatalities.
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