Preventing Ladder Injuries at Construction Sites

iStock_000016423883_LargeOn any given day, there are approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation, with almost 6.5 million construction workers. What’s more, the fatal injury rate for those working in construction ishigher than the national average for all industries, and in 2012 OSHA found fatal work involving contractors accounted for 19.3 percent of all fatal work injuries.

In the inspections, OSHA also discovered that 54.2 percent of worker deaths in construction were due to the “Fatal Four.” The Fatal Four consists of:

  • Falls – 279 out of 806 total deaths in construction in 2012 (34.6%)
  • Struck by Object – 79 (9.8%)
  • Electrocutions – 66 (8.1%)
  • Caught-in/between – 13 (1.6%)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that eliminate the Fatal Four as workplace hazards would save 437 worker lives each year.

Because falls are the number one cause of construction worker injury, fall protection is the first step to increasing employee safety. Using ladders safely is one important way to start preventing falls on a construction site. Though contractors and foreman should organize their site and train their employees about ladder safety, there are things each employee can do on their own to create a safer work environment by preventing ladder falls.

  • Choose the right ladder. Sometimes when you work, your ladder may be the only thing supporting your weight; that is why it is so important that you ensure that you have the correct ladder for the work you are about to do. If it is incorrect, it could fail and you or another worker could fall. The three main types of ladders are step ladders, straight ladders, and extension ladders. To figure out which kind is appropriate for your job, ask yourself two questions:
    • “Is the ladder long enough?” The ladder should be long enough to set it up stably and still extend at the top so you have something to hold onto when you descend. You should be able to set the ladder at the correct angle so you can keep your balance and and are not likely to fall backwards. A stable angle means that the ladder extends 3 feet above the surface you are working on, and that every 4 feet high the ladder is the base is 2 foot away from the wall.
    • “Is the ladder in good condition?” The ladder should not be cracked or damaged and it should have a duty rating high enough for the work you will be performing. Longer ladders don’t necessarily have higher duty ratings.
  • Tie the top and bottom of the ladder to fixed points. Tie the top of the ladder to the roof or another fixed point above the surface you will be working on; tie the bottom of the ladder to a fixed point on the floor. This is a simple way to prevent the ladder from sliding or from falling backward. It only takes a few minutes, so even if you are doing work where you need to move the ladder around, it is worth taking the extra time for this step.
  • Do not carry tools or materials in-hand while climbing the ladder. Use a tool belt, rope and pulley system, or tie a rope around tools to pull up once you’ve ascended the ladder. Carrying materials in hand as you climb the ladder can throw off your balance. Ideally, you should always have 3 points of contact to stabilize you, meaning you have both feet and one hand on the ladder, or both hands and one foot on the ladder. If your hands are full you cannot have 3 points of contact and are more likely to fall, so enlist the help of a co worker to hand you your tools on the ladder. Taking even small precautions to prevent falls helps to make construction a safer industry to be a part of.


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