Ladder Safety

Ladders are common but also dangerous

Ladders are one of the most commonly used pieces of equipment on a work site. Did you know they can also be one of the most dangerous?

Falls are the most frequently occurring and costly accidents in the construction sector, and falls from ladders are the most costly. From 2007 to 2009, there were 1,326 reported falls from ladders with claims costs totalling around 60 million dollars. In 2010 alone, there were 869 reported falls from ladders. What’s more is that the construction industry accounts for 42 percent of all fall from ladder claims WorkSafeBC processes.

Stepping Up to Safety

Don Schouten
Falls from ladders aren’t just something workers bounce back from; they usually take a person off the job for an average of 50 days. Imagine losing one of your seasoned workers for nearly two months, and having to train and orientate a new worker to replace him.

Sometimes workers don’t bounce back at all. Falls from ladders can cause serious, life-changing injuries — even death. Since 2001, there have been 13 fatal claims involving falls from ladders. In fact, just in the month of May, three B.C. workers died after falling from ladders. I think you would agree that this is unacceptable.

Anytime a worker is injured or killed at work, it’s not just about them. The consequences and impact of that incident reverberate through their families, their coworkers, the work site, and the industry as a whole.

Before workers start work, they should ask themselves: do I have the right tool for the job? They should consider whether a ladder is the best piece of equipment for the task, or if a properly-constructed work platform or scaffolding would be safer to work from.

A ladder must be inspected before each use. It should be in good condition and strong enough for the job. Any ladders with loose, broken, or missing rungs, or have split or bent side rails are unsafe. Damaged ladders should be destroyed and discarded.

The top of the ladder must be resting against a firm structure and secured to prevent it from slipping. It also needs to extend a minimum of one metre above the top surface. The base of the ladder should rest on a firm, level foundation, and be secured to prevent side-slip or kick-out from the base.

The sections of an extension ladder need to overlap according to the manufacturer’s instructions and all locks must be properly engaged. Also, make sure metal extension ladders aren’t set up anywhere near power lines or electricity.

When ascending or descending a ladder, workers should always face the ladder and use a three-point contact climbing method (two hands and one foot, or one hand and two feet). The worker’s belt buckle should always stay within the ladder rails — their centre mass should never reach out while on the ladder. Ensure they’re carrying their tools in a tool belt, or raising and lowering them and other materials with a hand line. Have a hoist available to carry heavy, bulky, or hazardous material up to the working area.

Whatever ladder is being used, remember that workers don’t have to fall far to be injured. Some of the most serious injuries have occurred when workers were just a few feet off the ground, such as when using a stepladder.

Stepladders may not seem dangerous, but serious injuries and even deaths have been caused by workers falling off stepladders. In the last five years, there were 530 serious injuries and four deaths caused from workers falling off step ladders. When a stepladder is used, it must be fully open and the spreaders locked in place. Remember that stepladders should never be used folded up and leaning against a surface.

No matter what type of work or project you’re doing, always plan for safety like you would any other job priority. Ladders are an important part of getting the job done, but not as important as your workers. Keep them from being a statistic; make sure they’re using ladders safely. It only takes a split second to change a life forever.