March is National Ladder Safety Month. It is imperative that we all continue to place serious and effective focus on ladder safety.
- It is natural to focus on the 10 people working on the edge of a building 80 feet in the air, but often we miss the person working on a stepladder 4 feet above ground level. Data show that it practically comes down to a matter of a coin toss as to who will fall: the person working on a leading edge 80 feet high, or the person working from the ladder.
- Ladders come in many sizes and styles. Ladders are now being used that did not exist or were hardly seen 10 years ago. Extension ladders and stepladders are still the most commonly used types, but also gaining use are three-legged ladders, podium deck ladders, articulating ladders and others. Unfortunately, due to their ubiquitous nature and most people’s comfort using them, ladders are often misused or used for the wrong purpose.
- The author’s company, Old Republic Contractors Insurance Group, a construction workers’ compensation, general liability, and commercial auto insurer, conducted an evaluation of falls that resulted from slips, trips and falls from elevations. The evaluation examined losses reported over a 10-year period (2010 to 2020) and revealed that falls in this category resulted in 1,341 losses totaling nearly $132 million. (Note: The cost of these losses is a moving number, as some losses may increase or decrease with time. This is especially true for more recently reported injuries.) Falls from ladders occurred in 51% of these reported losses and accounted for 29% of the cost, which equates to around 68 reported falls from ladders each year, costing more than $3.8 million annually.
What You Can Do About It
- Think about how far a person’s head will fall, not just how high up their feet are.
- Look for ways to eliminate the need for ladders through engineering and substitution. These three controls go hand in hand and can help reduce exposure: place workers inside a scissor/boom lift; install stairs and mezzanine access; use a tool to reach objects and materials at height.
- When you must rely on administrative practices, have a strong program and impactful conversations about ladder safety with employees. Use positive and negative reinforcement techniques.
- Recognize employees for doing the right thing and discuss unwanted behaviors with employees in a meaningful and lasting way.
- Use PPE as best you can. A hard hat can go a long way in preventing severe head trauma, and proper footwear may prevent a fall from a ladder due to a slip.