Minimizing Falls, Injuries in Construction: Ladder Safety

Ladder-Safety-hero

March was Ladder Safety Month with the American Ladder Institute raising awareness on the importance of safety to prevent ladder-related accidents and fatalities at home and on the job. Let’s review some of the ladder and scaffolding safety basics for construction workers.

An estimated 65% of the construction industry works on scaffolding or ladders on a daily basis. Falls from this equipment account for about 15% of all construction accident fatalities each year, as well as at least 20,000 injuries in the industry as a whole. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 80% of fall injuries by construction workers that result in a visit to the emergency room involved a ladder.

Accidents involving ladders and scaffolding frequently result in severe or permanent injuries such as broken bones and fractures, back and neck injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and paralysis. Some of the most common reasons for ladder- and scaffolding-related injuries, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), are as follows:

  • Defects in the ladder or scaffold
  • Excess equipment weight load
  • Failure to secure the ladder or scaffold
  • Faulty design or defective materials
  • Lack of adequate safety equipment such as guardrails or harnesses
  • Lack of qualified supervision

Ladder and Scaffolding Safety Practices

Following are safety tips to reinforce with your crew:

Ladders

  • Properly train employees on ladder safety.
  • Ensure all workers wear clean, slip-resistant shoes.
    Inspect all ladders and make sure they are in good working order prior to using them.
  • Do not use ladders with missing or loose parts. Ladders that sway or lean to one side must be repaired or replaced.
  • Choose a ladder appropriate for the size of the job:
    • The ladder's Duty Rating (the maximum safe load capacity of the ladder) must be greater than the total weight of the climber, tools, supplies, and other objects placed on the ladder.
    • The ladder must be long enough so that the worker does not have to stand on the top rung or step.
    • Select a ladder made of nonconductive materials such as fiberglass if exposure to electrical hazards is a possibility.
  • Place an in-use ladder on firm, level ground with no slippery conditions at the base or top support points.
  • Keep three points of contact (either two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand) at all times when climbing a ladder. Once a worker has stopped climbing, tools and materials should be carried on a tool belt or hauled up by rope.
  • Before using a non-self-supporting ladder, make sure it is situated at the proper angle. The base of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the support for every 4 feet of working length, according to a 4:1 ratio. Stand erect with your toes against the bottom of the ladder's side rails and your hands straight out.
  • Unless the ladder is specifically designed for more than one climber (such as a trestle ladder), only one person is permitted on it at a time.

Scaffolding

  • Make sure all workers are properly trained on scaffolding safety by a qualified person who will review potential hazards such as electrocution, falls, and falling object hazards and the procedures for dealing with those hazards. Training must also cover the proper use of the scaffold, how to handle materials, and the scaffold's load capacities.
  • Inspect the scaffolding prior to the work shift to ensure it’s safe to use and in proper working order before a worker climbs aboard it.
  • Have only trained personnel under supervision erect, dismantle, alter, or move scaffolds.
  • Always wear a hard hat when working on, under, or around a scaffold. Also, wear sturdy, non-slip work boots and consider using tool lanyards.
  • Keep an eye out for coworkers working above and below you, as well as those working on the scaffold. If you witness improper use of anything on or near a scaffold, stop what you're doing and notify a supervisor.

Safety on the job is always paramount and it’s important to keep construction workers safe when using ladders and scaffolding.