Why are ladders so dangerous for employees to use, and how can training prepare them to be safe?
Some of the most common items in workplaces can end up posing the greatest danger to employees’ health and safety. This certainly includes ladders, no matter if they are permanently installed or portable, and whether the workplace in question is a warehouse, a construction site, an office building or any other setting. While ladders may seem so mundane it may feel unnecessary to train employees in their use, the high numbers of people injured every year tell another tale.
Your organization should incorporate ladder safety into its safety training program if it hasn’t already done so.
What Risks are Associated with Ladders?
Improper ladder use is a potential cause of workplace falls, which claim hundreds of lives on the job every year. Falls to a lower level were responsible for 615 deaths in 2018, the latest year for which complete Bureau of Labor Statistics has data available. That number is high, and most years are even deadlier. The 2018 figure is a five-year low, with 713 people perishing in falls from elevation in 2017.
While ladders present a risk to employees across all sectors, construction workers are especially susceptible to falling from ladders. During the 2020 National Safety Stand-Down, an event designed to raise awareness around fall danger, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) stated that of 1,008 total construction fatalities in 2018, nearly one-third (320) were caused by such incidents.
Although climbing a tall ladder has some inherent risk, companies can limit this factor through proper equipment use. Problems arise when there are violations of regulations and best practices. Sadly, these mistakes are very common. Safety and Health Magazine revealed that in the 2019 fiscal year, ladder use was the No. 6 cause of OSHA violations, with 2,766 citations for ladder handling mistakes handed down. In the 2018 fiscal year, the outlook was much the same, with 2,780 violations and an identical No. 6 placing in the top 10.
By checking which OSHA rules were breached, you can tell the types of risky behaviors associated with ladder use. For instance, more than 1,600 violations were attributed to workers not securing their ladders properly. This means workers failing to use a ladder that extends three feet beyond the upper surface or attaching the ladder to the object being climbed with a reliable device. Other mistakes included using ladders for purposes not intended by the manufacturer or stepping onto the top or highest step of a ladder.
What’s striking about ladder risk statistics is the numbers of injuries and rule violations are not just high, but steady. Year after year, similar numbers of people are dying or suffering serious injuries falling from ladders. This demonstrates that although ladders are commonplace and somewhat easy to ignore, workplace leaders should not overlook them when crafting training strategies and policies.
Proper ladder use means ensuring the equipment is in good condition.
What Does Safe Ladder Use Look Like?
In the simplest terms, ladder safety involves taking a little extra time and not being hasty or careless. OSHA’s portable ladder safety quick card lays out several important usage guidelines. For example, before setting a ladder up, a worker should give the equipment a brief once-over. If any part of the ladder appears damaged or worn out, it’s essential to take it out of service immediately and not risk using it. Employees should also think about their posture when climbing. OSHA calls for a “three point” approach, with either two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand in contact with the ladder at any time.
Some of the rules around safe ladder use involve maintaining the equipment itself. For example, no one should use a ladder with anything slippery on the rungs, feet or steps. Other requirements involve the way ladders are deployed in the field, such as the stipulation that workers avoid putting ladders on top of unstable surfaces like boxes or barrels.
Still more of these specifications are based on the way people interact with ladders. Employees should not move ladders while someone else is climbing, and they have to watch out for potential electrical hazards.
The National Safety Council added a few points to remember, including the following:
- Employees should make sure their shoes have enough gripping ability to prevent slips.
- Only one person should ever be on a ladder at a time.
- Having a colleague climb up to pass an object is highly dangerous and must be avoided.
This diverse range of safety reminders demonstrates the importance of workplace safety training. There are numerous ways for work on ladders to go wrong, and therefore employees should receive refreshers in policies and procedures to keep them safe.
How Can Training Help Employees Use Ladders?
Video-based online training courses focusing on ladder safety can reinforce the correct practices for all types of equipment and workplace situations. By selecting training materials that include interactive quizzes, workplace leaders can tell whether employees have internalized the potentially life-saving information from these courses. Specially designed educational offerings for the construction industry can deliver relevant facts to employees on these job sites.
From refresher courses under 10 minutes to more in-depth videos, there are a variety of ladder-focused training materials available today. Adding these courses to a company’s current training curriculum is a way to prepare workers for the risks they face every time they set up or climb a ladder. If the additional training prevents even one accident, it has already proven its worth, as a single misstep on a ladder can be deadly.