Every day 2,000 people are injured in a ladder-related accident. One hundred of those people suffer a long-term or permanent disability. And every day, one person dies; the numbers are continuing to rise.
Is fall protection the answer?
In just the last few years, more companies have started applying tie-off rules to portable ladders, even though OSHA and MSHA don’t require it. Although the standards vary from company to company, most follow a basic rule: If a ladder operator is working at a height of four feet or more, the operator must tie off to a suitable fall-arrest anchor point. If a suitable anchor point is not available, the operator must work from an approved enclosed platform, either a powered lift or scaffolding.
Understanding the causes
Understanding how people use ladders and how they get injured is key to designing new, safer climbing products. Studying the statistics, we can divide ladder accidents into three categories.
- Ligament and muscle tears, herniated disks, and strains and sprains from unloading, carrying and setting up the ladder. Almost half of reported injuries involving ladders are caused by the awkward size and weight of the ladder. The easy solution to this problem is to make the ladder lighter.
- Using the wrong type or size of ladder for the job. Often, this issue is caused by the first problem. The right size ladder is too heavy, so we grab the smaller one and try to make it work by climbing too high on the ladder. Or, we make do with the closest ladder at hand, when we really need a different type of ladder. Using a stepladder as a straight ladder is probably the most common example of using the wrong kind of ladder.
- Falls from height from overreaching or improper setup. This issue is caused when the operator should climb down and move the ladder instead of leaning or when the operator does not follow the set-up rules.
A higher percentage of disabilities and fatalities come from catastrophic falls from height, so let's concentrate on that.
“I was just trying to reach that last thing” is the start to a lot of really bad ladder accident stories. Too often, we stretch to reach that one last thing instead of climbing down and moving the ladder.
Another factor in side-tip accidents is how level the ground is in the set up. If a 28-foot extension ladder is one inch off at the base, the top of the ladder will be 19 inches off. That puts the top of the ladder completely outside the footprint of the ladder. Even if you are keeping your body between the side rails, your ladder will tip.
Safety by design
By adding outriggers to an extension ladder’s design, we can increase the side-tip stability by more than 500 percent. Because level ground is such a big factor in most side-tip accidents, designing the outriggers to also level will also greatly reduce the possibility of a tip due to overreaching.
Stepladders have different problems to overcome. You can still tip over because you overreach, but you also need to solve any three-points-of-contact issues or any tie-off rules that might have been written into your company safety policy. You also need to work on uneven surfaces or staircases.
Adjustable safety cages
Adjustable safety cages are a new category of climbing equipment, not really a ladder and not really a scaffold or lift. These innovations allow an operator to work in a height-adjustable, fully enclosed platform while in compliance with all tie-off requirements.
Fence vs. ambulance
As a safety professional, would you rather build a fence at the top of a cliff, or park an ambulance at the bottom? Fall protection will always have its place, but when it comes to ladders and climbing equipment, fall prevention is the future.