National Ladder Safety Month is Here – Here is what you need to know to stay safe when working with ladders
Did you know that more than 22,000 people across the U.S. are injured while using ladders each year? And, unfortunately, 161 people suffered a fatal injury from a ladder in 2020. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 65% of those ladder fatalities came from movable ladders.
March is National Ladder Safety Month, a national program dedicated exclusively to promoting ladder safety at home and work, created by the American Ladder Institute in 2017. While the number of ladder-related deaths has declined in recent years, decreasing by 12% from 2016 to 2020, even a single injury or death from a ladder fall is one too many. By providing critical guidelines and raising awareness on safe use, we can help decrease these numbers.
In construction alone, there were 5,370 ladder injuries in 2020. These injuries come at a cost – not only for workers and their health but also for employers. A 2018 workplace safety survey in the U.S. found that $17+ billion is spent on falls that result from working at height. There are many other industries that can benefit from ladder safety training too, like maintenance, transportation or material moving, and forestry, to name a few.
This Ladder Safety Month, let’s take a closer look at the fundamentals of safe ladder use to help keep workers protected from injury.
Check Before You Climb
Before you leave the ground and ascend a ladder there are a few things you should do to prepare yourself. Always check the ladder’s feet and the surface you place it on. It should be on a level and stable surface and should never be placed on an unstable base just to gain height. Additionally, just like you want a stable base for your ladder, you want something stable for it to rest against. You should never lean a ladder against a window.
It’s not enough just for the ladder to be stable, you must make sure that your climb up the ladder will be smooth and steady. By wearing the correct footwear, you can help to prevent slips and make sure your shoes have the necessary grip to climb each rung. Take a second to inspect that your shoes are clear of water, mud, or grease and in good condition.
After the ladder is set in a stable position, take a moment to examine the ladder itself. Check to ensure that it is in good condition and if using an extension ladder, check that the locks are all engaged properly. During examination, read any cautionary labels to confirm you’re using it safely and for its intended purpose. Ask yourself, is this the right ladder for the job? While scanning the labels, check that you are not exceeding the ladder’s maximum load rating, which could also lead to a scenario where you may need a different ladder for the task at hand.
Mistakes to Avoid
In 2022, violations involving ladders in construction ranked fourth in OSHA’s top 10 most frequently cited standards, with 2,143 violations found. Most ladder injuries come from not using a ladder properly or safely. While it seems like a simple task, there are over 130,000 ladder-related emergency room visits each year, so it helps to stay informed on the latest safety precautions.
1. Be mindful of electrical hazards. You should never ignore nearby overhead powerlines when setting up your ladder. If you are working near overhead powerlines, avoid using a metal ladder or any energized electrical equipment which could put you at risk of electrocution.
2. Keep your feet, hands and body in safe position. When ascending or descending a ladder, make sure to always face the ladder and stay upright at all times. Leaning beyond the rails can cause instability and result in falling or other injuries. If you can’t reach what you need without leaning, then you need to adjust your ladders position. It’s never a good idea to move or adjust a ladder while someone is currently on it. Wait for the climber to get off the ladder at the bottom to adjust it into a better position. Wearing a toolbelt is a great way to ensure your hands stay free to climb each rung with both hands.
3. Always engage ladder safety best practices, either on the job or at home. Even if you don’t frequently work at heights at work, you can still practice ladder safety for personal use at home. If you’re at home make sure you take your time in setting up your ladder, climb slowly and if possible, have another person nearby in case of emergency.
Avoid Falls with the Right Gear
A worker at height is defined as a worker that is a minimum of 4 feet in elevation for general industrial situations, 5 feet in shipyards and 6 feet for construction environments. This means that if you are using anything other than a step ladder, you’re considered to be working from height. In this case, fall protection could be necessary to help mitigate fall risks.
Falls are the number one cause of construction worker fatalities and account for one-third of job site deaths in the industry. Construction workers are often working from height for long hours while doing repetitive tasks. This can easily cause fatigue and can result in not being as alert by the end of the day. Adding a harness and self-retracting lifeline can really make a difference in worker safety. The addition of anchor points on a roof or elevated surface can give workers the confidence to move about their job in a safe manner. By providing workers with the proper personal protective equipment to perform their job safely, you are not just protecting a worker, you’re helping to protect a life.
The more you know about ladder safety, the more likely you are to stay protected while on the job. The month of March serves as a good reminder to refresh safety protocols for ladder use. This Ladder Safety Month, take the time to review best practices and implement them to help reduce risk of injury.